London, Ont., Mayor Ed Holder’s looming departure from political life means the upcoming civic race will be wide open, and the third in a row guaranteed to send a new mayor to 300 Dufferin Ave.
Holder announced on Tuesday that he would retire from politics at the end of the current council term, with his last day in office slated to be Nov. 14, making him the third London mayor to serve only a single term in office.
Holder was first elected in 2018 in the city’s first, and so far only, ranked ballot election, where he received a total of 59 per cent of the vote through 14 rounds of ballots.
In an interview with Global News Tuesday, Holder said that given some recent health issues he has faced — Holder underwent a medical procedure and was away from city hall for a month — he was unsure whether he could serve another term with the commitment it requires.
“It’s made me think about this last three and a half years and what the role of a mayor requires. You have got to run 100 miles an hour, and you have got to do 70 hours a week,” he said.
“That’s absolutely true, and I suppose what’s happened in the last while is if I were going to commit to another term of four years, can I with certainty make that guarantee to Londoners? And I wasn’t sure that I could.”
Speaking with Global News, Dr. Jacquie Newman, associate professor of political science at King’s University College, said people’s perception of municipal government is that it’s part time and is in the “realm of people who are retired.”
“In a large city like London, it’s not. There’s a lot going on,” she said, highlighting issues of affordability, particularly housing, and years-long challenges regarding transportation.
“You get a sense of, there is a lot of work involved. And for someone who is coming off a medical scare, the amount of work can be seen to be insurmountable.”
Former London city controller and councillor, Gord Hume, says public office is “tremendously demanding,” mentally and physically.
“It also affects your family life. It affects everything you can do. It’s a tough political environment out there these days. A lot of people don’t like it,” he said, adding he believes Holder made the right decision.
“I think he was a very good steward for the city during a difficult time, and frankly, after the last two mayors that we have had, in all of their tumultuous times and scandals, I think London needed a ‘let’s catch our breath and figure out where we are.'”
Newman notes that having now had three single-term mayors in a row, it “doesn’t bode well for bringing forward a multi-year, concerted effort to get transportation off the ground,” describing a mayor as being “the guide of council.”
“The London transportation plan, we were talking about it, when Matt Brown was was mayor. How much has that plan changed? How much of that overall vision has been chipped away because there hasn’t been a continual presence guiding council?”
Nearly a month after city hall began accepting nominations for the municipal race, it remains to be seen who plans to step up to the plate to replace Holder.
Only one person, Sean O’Connell, had filed paperwork to run for mayor as of Tuesday. O’Connell previously ran for mayor in 2018 and ran for the Ward 14 council seat in 2014.
“I think people have been waiting to hear Ed’s decision. And I think you now are going to find a cascade of announcements by various individuals, not just running for mayor,” said Hume.
“You’re going to find, I think, some council members will give up that council seat and run for mayor, and that, in turn, will provoke and encourage some candidates, hopefully some new ones, to seek public office in the ward races.”
So far, councillors Shawn Lewis, Mariam Hamou, Steve Lehman, Anna Hopkins, Steve Hillier and John Fyfe-Millar had filed paperwork to run for re-election as of Tuesday.
Councillors Jesse Helmer and Mo Salih have previously indicated they will not run for a third term.
Given the demanding nature of the job, Newman said she has found that the majority of those who tend to run for council — councillor or mayor — are doing it because they have a “very strong commitment to the community,” rather than to start a political career.
“That’s going to be interesting in terms of seeing who comes forward to actually replace the mayor,” she said.
“Looking around and reading the press releases, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of candidate that’s obvious. Maybe except for the deputy mayor who has stated that they were waiting to see what the mayor decided to do before they would actually make their own decision.”
While he hasn’t officially confirmed any plans, Deputy Mayor and Ward 7 Councillor Josh Morgan has been eyed as a possible mayoral contender. He previously voiced interest in running in 2018, but ran for re-election as councillor instead.
An election inquiry to Morgan did not receive a response by publication time.
Voters head to the polls on Oct. 24.