Two-term incumbents Mo Salih and Jesse Helmer announced in a joint letter on Wednesday that they will not be seeking re-election in the 2022 municipal race.
The City of London councillors, who represent wards 3 and 4 respectively, say their decisions were made in part to make space “for new voices and diverse perspectives.”
“International Women’s Day is coming up next week. Since our wards were created, only men have been elected as councillors,” the letter reads.
“We know we need more women, including women of colour, making the decisions at City Hall. London should have a council as diverse as our city.”
They add that it has been an honour to represent the residents of their wards at City Hall and they have been “lucky to witness the many ways that residents in East London step up to make our city better through their community activism, their volunteer service and their work.”
In an interview on The Afternoon Show with Jess Brady on Global News Radio 980 CFPL, Helmer shared more about their decision and why they decided to announce it now.
“I do think it’s really important that we have renewal, that we have new people coming into these positions, and all kinds of elected positions. And so I think two terms is plenty,” he said.
“If we had more people stepping aside to make space, I think that in the long run that would result in better outcomes overall. And I think it’s really important that we strive to have — and that we actually achieve — a council at the local level that is representative of the population.”
Helmer added that choosing to run for office and preparing a campaign can take time, which is why they wanted to “give people a heads-up.”
“For a lot of people, it’s a big decision. Sometimes people have to give up the job that they’re doing now in order to run for office. We want to give people as much notice as possible.”
For the rest of their terms, Helmer said he and Salih are focusing on “the challenges that are right in front of us,” particularly addressing homelessness and impacts of the pandemic.
Salih told Global News that he’s always felt that it’s important to make sure there’s “space at the table for diverse voices.”
“When you look around at some of the decisions we continue to make, it impacts every single Londoner. But, in particular, many decisions impact women in our community and women of colour. We need make sure to have a voice that has that lived experience and has that lens that’s much needed.”
When looking at his own time as councillor, he said he’s most proud of his work around equity and diversity as well as economic recovery.
“Obviously, we’re in unique times and just being part of the change that’s needed has been rewarding.”
Mayor Ed Holder released a statement, saying he was initially “surprised and disappointed” by the news.
“Yet, when I heard how and why they had arrived at their decision, I was completely supportive, and found myself once again reminded why both individuals have been such thoughtful contributors to so many different aspects of London’s growth as a community.”
Holder says Salih has been a voice for all Londoners, “including many who have too often gone unnoticed or unheard.”
“Mo has helped to spearhead changes that have improved the lives of Londoners, from all backgrounds, and will for years to come.”
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One of the most high-profile changes related to the police practice of carding.
In November 2016, Salih shared his own personal experiences in an impassioned seven-minute speech to council. Later that month, London became the first municipality in Canada to vote in favour of ending street checks in a symbolic vote.
In early 2019, a judge tasked with reviewing the province’s regulations released a report that found carding disproportionately harms people from racialized communities, wastes police resources and does nothing to address crime.”
Of Helmer, Holder says that he “has been a great source of wisdom and support to Council, and to myself personally — especially during his time as deputy mayor.”
“Jesse is a model for anyone who seeks to serve the public as an elected representative, and is the rare sort who leads with his head as well as his heart.”
Helmer was among the local politicians contributing to a sustained push to make the provincial business education tax (BET) rate uniform, which was finally achieved in late 2020.
In a tweet, Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga called the announcement “tough news,” saying Salih has been “like a brother to me on council” while Helmer has been “a great friend who has supported me.”
“Thank you for your service, I hope this isn’t the end!”
Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis also tweeted, calling Salih a friend and saying that it was a pleasure “to campaign for you in 2014 and alongside you in 2018.”
“I respect the work you’ve done and will miss sitting beside you. Wishing you all the best in your future endeavours (but continuing to work with you for the rest of the term).”
In a separate tweet to Helmer, Lewis acknowledge that while they may not always agree, “we’ve also found many opportunities to find common ground (something we could use more of in politics).”
“I respect the work you’ve done and your belief in the importance of public service. Your voice will be missed.”
London North Centre Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos thanked both Salih and Helmer “for contributing so much to our city over the years” while Dr. Javeed Sukhera, chair of the London Police Services Board, said that he is “so proud to know them and be continually inspired by them.”