The return of Valérie Plante as Montreal mayor was not the only devastating defeat for Denis Coderre’s Ensemble Montreal party.
Sunday night, Lionel Perez declared victory over Projet Montréal candidate Gracia Kasoki Katahwa in the Côte-des-Neiges-NDG mayoral race, but the votes had not all been counted yet.
After all was said and done, Projet Montréal won by just a few dozen votes.
Katahwa was only declared the victor late Monday morning. When Plante found out about her candidate’s improbable victory as she was wrapping up a press conference just before noon, she screamed in joy.
“We’re coming home! We’re coming home, NDG-Côte-des-Neiges,” she exclaimed, as she hugged and high-fived team members surrounding her.
Katawa, a former nurse at the Jewish General and St. Mary’s Hospitals, said she had a similar reaction when she found out the news,
“I yelled!” she said, before breaking into joyous laughter.
The level of enthusiasm of both likely has something to do with Perez prematurely declaring victory Sunday night.
“I’m very proud of the campaign I led locally, obviously it had resonance with the population,” he told Global News at Ensemble Montreal’s election night headquarters in the borough on Sunday.
Leading by several hundred votes about an hour after polls had closed, Perez called himself the winner. So did some media organizations, including Global News.
As the night went on, however, and more votes were counted, Katawa kept chipping away at the lead.
“My team, they told me, ‘You know, hang in there. We’re not sure this is over yet,'” she recounted.
The morning came and Perez’s lead kept shrinking. After the very last polling station was counted the former nurse had won by 83 votes. The margin of victory was later changed to 177 votes.
“We made history today,” Katahwa said. “Côte-des-Neiges-NDG elected a Projet Montreal administration, and that that means a lot to us. It is really, really important to make sure that we are able to move forward with the work that we have to do here.”
NDG councillor Peter McQueen was re-elected, and said he was comforting Katahwa when things looked bleak. He knew votes in his Projet Montreal-friendly district were being counted later.
“I was confident that she was going to climb and it would get close,” he told Global News.
A recount is not automatic. Elections Montreal explains it needs to be requested by someone who believes there was foul play or inaccurate counting. On Monday Perez would not confirm he intended to ask for one. He was not made available to comment on the final result.
Longtime Snowdon councillor Marvin Rotrand, an ally of Perez’s, said he believes there will be a recount.
“This is a loss for Montreal for a number of reasons,” said Rotrand. “Lionel Perez is the obvious person to continue as leader of the opposition. I think almost everyone considers him a gentleman, intelligent, cogent with an extremely good knowledge of municipal governance.”
He wondered how many people in the area even know Katahwa.
Meanwhile, the new mayor plans to hit the ground running.
Rotrand criticized her for living in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, but Katahwa explained Monday she had grown up in NDG.
“I come from here and I had to leave because I had to go back to school full time, and housing can be expensive here. That’s why I had to leave,” she explained.
One of her first orders of business will be to move back to the borough she grew up in, and attack the problem that forced her leave.