While the move still awaits final approval from city council, the strategic priorities and policy committee (SPPC) has endorsed Mariam Hamou to fill the Ward 6 vacancy in London, Ont.
The human rights activist and political advocate beat out 20 other contenders in three rounds of voting during an SPPC meeting on Monday.
There was little debate on Monday about who should take over for Ward 6’s former councillor Phil Squire, who had to vacate the role after being appointed to a provincial tribunal that deals with issues of medical consent.
Brief remarks were shared by Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner, who lent his support to Nancy Branscombe, the former two-term councillor for Ward 6 who served from 2006 to 2014.
Most of the discussion centred on the process used to fill Ward 6’s vacancy, which differed from how council filled Ward 13. That ward was filled by choosing the runner-up to Ward 13’s former councillor Arielle Kayabaga in the 2018 election, John Fyfe-Millar. He was sworn in on October 27.
Turner opened the topic by reiterating his concerns about the process, telling his fellow councillors, “this doesn’t represent, necessarily, the interests of the residents and constituents of the ward.”
“The only true way to do that is through a by-election and actually going to the people,” Turner said, maintaining a stance he’s held since talk first began of how to fill London’s ward vacancies.
“I hope that we can consider, in the future, how we might want to deal with these consistently, appropriately and transparently because I didn’t get the sense that that existed in our first process, and that’s with all respect to Coun. Fyfe-Millar.”
Mayor Ed Holder agreed and said he hoped a consistent process will be established “in an appropriate fashion.”
“I don’t think that’s worthy of more debate at this moment today, but I think absolutely worthy going forward,” Holder added.
The list of Ward 6 hopefuls dwindled down quickly during Monday’s voting. Stephen Thomson had withdrawn his name from contention before voting began.
With 14 members of council voting, an applicant needed eight votes in order to gain an endorsement from the SPPC.
In the first round of voting, only three names garnered support: Seven votes for Hamou, six for Branscombe and one for Mike Bloxam, the runner-up to former councillor Squire in the 2018 election.
The next round for voting, which removed all names except for Hamou and Branscombe, ended in a tie.
Councillors were given one more round of voting. If another tie had occurred, the winner would have been drawn by lot, with the SPPC’s endorsement going to whomever got drawn.
Hoping to not see a candidate chosen in that fashion, Ward 1 Coun. Michael van Holst told his colleagues he would be switching his support to Hamou.
Hamou edged out a win in the third round with eight votes over Branscombe’s seven.
In an appearance on London Live with Mike Stubbs less than an hour after Monday’s vote, Hamou described the proceedings as “a bit nail-biterish,” adding she was happy a winner wasn’t drawn by lot.
“For democracy, it just doesn’t make sense,” she said.
According to Hamou’s application for the city council position, she has lived in Ward 6 for more than 30 years.
Her past political experience includes working as the chief of staff for former Liberal London North Centre MP Glen Pearson.
Her other work includes serving in a public relations role for the Syrian Opposition Coalition in Turkey, as well as chairing and co-founding the Syrian Relief Fund, which helped settle Syrian refugees in London.
Hamou’s application adds that she currently serves on boards for the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, the Ontario Library Boards Association and the London Public Library, having previously chaired the latter from 2019 to 2020.
“I started out big and now I’m going to whittle down to my neighbourhood,” Hamou said, speaking to her motivations for seeking municipal office.
As for the future of Ward 6, Hamou says one of her main objectives will be to build on the relationship with Western University, which is contained within the ward.
“We’d like to work along with the university to ensure we can work on a solution together.”
City council is expected to grant final approval of SPPC’s endorsement of Hamou when it meets on Tuesday afternoon.