Pros and cons of Edmonton’s mayoralty candidates.

First off, thank you Kerry Diotte, Karen Leibovici and Don Iveson. Thank you all for giving Edmontonians the best mayoralty race in years, likely better than 2004 when Stephen Mandel upset Bill Smith, and maybe even better than the three-way fight between Bill Smith, Robert Noce and Mike Nickel in 2001. Mayoralty races bring out the voters, and if nothing else this year’s voter turnout will almost certainly beat the pathetic 33% turnout of 2010. Mind you, it’s pretty well impossible not to beat that number.

Now that the major players are in place, let’s do a quick handicap of the three genuine contenders — and the other guy.

Kerry Diotte

Pros: Diotte is best positioned to tap into the Angry Voter bloc, peeved that city taxes keep going up even as the potholes get bigger. He is the only mayoralty candidate who consistently voted against the arena proposal, which will stand him in good stead with the considerable number of Edmontonians (particularly the older voter) who don’t like the deal. Never underestimate the power of the disgruntled voter; gruntled voters stay home, disgruntled voters go to the polls.

Cons: Could be seen as Mr. No, the kind of guy who doesn’t want the city to spend money. Period.  Again, many voters will see him as regressive, at odds with their perception of Edmonton as a progressive city. After only one term on city council, he may be seen as attempting to go too far, too fast.

Karen Leibovici

Pros: A familiar face to Edmonton voters (former Liberal MLA 1993-2001, city councillor since 2001), Leibovici may be seen as a stabilizing force on a city council that will have at least six rookies on a 13-member council. Leibovici clearly knows what it takes to win, and after so many years in politics will likely have the best organization (and most money) behind her. Consistent supporter of the arena, which will please the progressive, pro-arena crowd. If Diotte is the conservative candidate, Leibovici is the liberal.

Cons: Leibovici may be too familiar of a face; a public figure for 20 years, at 61 she will have worn out her welcome with some. And with so much history to go on, her past voting record may be used against her if she can be portrayed as a tax-and-spend liberal.  Consistent support of the arena deal (which I believe will become the polarizing issue of the election, along with road conditions) may backfire. As a long-time member of council and a Mandel supporter, she could become the lightning rod for voters angry with anything council has done in the last decade.

Don Iveson

Pros: By far the youngest candidate at 34, Iveson is a fresh face despite being on council for two terms. Will hold great appeal to the 30-something voters who want Edmonton to be seen as a happening city, and provide an answer to Edmontonians suffering from Naheed Nenshi-envy. A handsome young guy with a young, multi-ethnic family, Iveson will be a favorite among progressive voters. Originally a doubter about the arena deal, Iveson changed his tune and voted in favor at the final vote. Some will see this as being pragmatic, and fighting for the best deal possible for the city.

Cons: Still young by political standards, Iveson’s “real world” experience is pretty thin. Will also be seen by some voters as being too big for his britches (that would be something older voters would say) for reaching for the top job with so little experience. His arena vote will be seen as a ‘flip-flop’ by some.

Curtis Penner

Pros: None.

Cons: Risks being confused with infamous Edmonton Oiler loafer Dustin Penner.

So who has the advantage? Well, it’s way too soon to tell. This is one of those rare elections that will actually be decided by the campaign. I can picture scenarios where any of the three real contenders could win, but that’s a blog for a different time. Right now, I’m just glad that we will have three contenders will real visions for Edmonton. This is going to be fun, in a nerdy political way.

Thanks, Mayor Mandel. Now, on to business…

First, a thank you to Stephen Mandel for his years of service to our city. Politics — particularly civic politics — is a tough way to make a living, and in my view Mandel has acquitted himself very well in his nine years as mayor. If you can be in charge of a city for almost a decade and NOT have half the population hate your guts, then you’ve done something right. I have no doubt that if he had chosen to run again, he would have won easily.

OK, now with that sentimentally out of the way, let’s get down to business — who will be Edmonton’s next mayor?

At this moment, we have exactly one candidate, Kerry Diotte, who launched his campaign last week in a bold move to stake out his position before anyone else. But, judging from the comments from the mayor — who called Diotte irrelevant — and the subtle agreement from some city councillors that Diotte hasn’t carried his weight, Diotte may not be a particularly popular member of the team. If the retirement of Mandel wasn’t enough to get the tire kickers behind the wheel, the Diotte announcement will likely galvanize the maybe mayors into action.

Oddly, the Diotte decision may actually reduce the number of would-be councillors in the race. Here’s my thinking: if there are enough city councillors who throw up a little at the thought of Diotte being the mayor, the possible contenders might decide to rally around one of their own to prevent a multi-candidate dogfight that could allow Diotte to get enough of the disgruntled anti-progress, anti-tax vote to win out over a field of more progressive candidates. If that’s the case, I could see someone like Don Iveson, who is young with many years ahead of him on council if he chooses, to sit this one out and let someone else run, like almost-certain candidate Karen Leibovici.

Of course, I could be entirely off base here. There may be too much ambition on council for any two or three to get together behind a candidate. In either event, I would think that Leibovici is an almost lock to run, and I think she would immediately become the favorite. Iveson would be a real challenger; he’s young, social media savvy, and after just one term on council, still a fairly fresh face. He will no doubt take some encouragement from the remarkable success of Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose success three years ago was due in no small part to how well he utilized social media.

My guess is that Leibovici is 80 per cent sure to run, particularly now that Diotte is in the race. Iveson I would put at no more than 50/50; he’s still young enough to hang around for another term on council if he chooses.

Aside from the mayoralty, which will be a battle worth watching for the first time in years, there will a land rush of candidates into the non-incumbent wards. There could easily be a dozen or so candidates in Ward 11, where Diotte is leaving, Ward 5 if the unbeatable Leibovici takes a run at the mayoralty, and in Ward 10 where Iveson would be a shoe-in.

Maybe that’s the best thing about Mandel’s retirement. By stepping down, he has almost certainly given a boost to the public’s tragically low interest in civic politics. At least it will give us something to do in October.

 

Kerry Diotte the front-runner … for now.

For months now, the city has been watching a tedious production called Waiting for Stephen to come to its end — is Mayor Mandel in, or is he out? All other potential or rumoured candidates — Karen Leibovici, Don Iveson, Kerry Diotte and Amajreet Sohi — have kept their powder dry waiting for the mayor to make up his mind. Now, with the arena deal done and his single biggest project of his mayoralty now a certainty (as much as we can call anything about the arena a certainty), it seems more likely than ever that Mandel will not run again. An incumbent mayor is awfully difficult to dislodge (in Quebec, the only way to get rid of an incumbent mayor is to haul him off to jail), and if Mandel decides not to run, the dominos will start to fall.

By not waiting for Mandel to make his decision known, Diotte has thrown down the gauntlet, not just to the mayor but also to the would-be mayors: he announced today that running for mayor, whatever Mandel does. That’s a bold move, and a smart one. Diotte is saying that he’s not afraid of the incumbent, and that he’s not the kind of guy to sit back and coast to an easy win in his ward like all the other namby-pamby maybe mayors.

Diotte will likely take aim at the great mass of disgruntled Edmontonians. They’re angry that the city is spending millions on an arena for a hockey team, that we’ve got an administration whose first job seems to be to come up with multi-million dollar pie-in-the-sky spending ideas, that adds to its payroll at a rate that far exceeds the city’s growth — but we can’t keep our roads from crumbling. That’s a large constituency, just waiting to be courted.

The strategy, if that is indeed Diotte’s plan, is risky. There is always a chance of being perceived as an anti-everything kind of guy. While there will be many who will applaud Diotte’s stand on the arena (he consistently voted against the deal) and his almost line-by-line parsing of city budgets, many more will see him as small minded penny-pincher with no great vision for the city.  Remember Mike Nickel, all around troublemaker? Turfed by the voters, defeated by a young upstart named Don Iveson in 2007. Going much further back, alderman Ed Leger was a consistent negative force on council before the public finally got tired of his negativity and turfed him in 1986.

Mandel is no fan of Diotte’s, it appears. On the morning news shows today, he called Diotte “irrelevant”, said he “has done nothing to contribute to the success of the city”, has “no vision for the city” and spends council meetings tweeting. Those are the strongest, most personal words I’ve ever heard from a mayor about a councillor. His surprising broadside means either a) Mandel is running again, and he took the opportunity to blast a possible opponent; or b) isn’t running again, but can’t stand the idea of a perceived do-nothing like Diotte in the mayor’s chair.

But right now, as of 3 p.m. on May 16th, Diotte is the favourite to win the mayoralty, predominantly because no one else is running right now. However, now that Diotte has officially started the race, the pressure now builds on other potential candidates. How do the others rate?

If Leibovici decides to run, she will become the front-runner, I think. Iveson would likely become the favourite of Edmonton’s young, Facebooking, Tweeting, downtown crowd, who are sorely underrepresented on city council. The fact that he changed his vote on the arena deal — from consistently opposed to supportive on the final vote — shouldn’t do him any harm. Circumstances change, and so should politicians. Amarjeet Sohi, a decent councillor touted by some as a mayoralty candidate, should best just stick to his ward; he doesn’t have the experience, profile or charisma to be a legitimate mayoralty candidate.

However it shakes down, the race is now fully underway. Diotte is off and running, with everyone else — including the incumbent — still pondering if they want to join the fray. If nothing else, this should make the election a whole lot more interesting.