Races to watch in the 2013 Edmonton election

Edmonton City Hall. Emily Mertz, Global News

EDMONTON – On October 21, voters will elect six new councillors and a new mayor to City Hall. So, Global News asked a former Edmonton city councillor and political analyst, Jim Taylor, which races are the ones to watch.

Mayoral Race

It’s been a while since Edmonton has seen the mayor’s seat vacated because of a retirement.  In fact, it’s been 45 years since that’s happened.

“1968 Vince Dancer retired,” said Jim Taylor, executive director of the Downtown Business Association and former city councillor. “When Vince retired, three active city councillors ran, so it’s déjà vu all over again.”

This election’s race for mayor has six candidates, including three current city councillors. Kerry Diotte, Don Iveson, and Karen Leibovici are all seeking to fill the top spot left by Mayor Stephen Mandel. Kristine Acielo, Josh Semotiuk, and Gordon Ward are also running for mayor.

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“I don’t want to ignore the other three mayoralty candidates because too often we do that, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that people put their names up even when they know the odds are astronomically against them,” said Taylor.

But, he said, “Most political watchers will tell you that our next mayor is going to come from one of those three former councillors.”

Taylor pointed out that – because Iveson and Leibovici are both running – an interesting three-way split in votes could happen.

“Right now, the fact that Don and Karen are running very, very close to each other… it really results in two things. First of all, we don’t know which of those two will get the most votes. Secondly – because they’re so close – whoever does get the most votes, that chunk of a bigger pot of voters who are attracted to those two candidates may not be much bigger, or may not even be bigger than a whole different category of voters that are attracted to Kerry.”

Taylor said if it was just one of either Iveson or Leibovici running against Diotte, Diotte would be in trouble.

“Or, if either Don or Karen was perceived to be a good deal ahead of the other, then I think you’d also conclude that Kerry’s chances were not that great. But, with Don and Karen running so close together, it’s splitting that pot fairly equally. It really begs the question of how big those pots are. And that makes it a very interesting race.”

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Wards to Watch

“Six of the 12 wards have incumbents running in them. And since 1971, [the year] the ward system came in, only 11 incumbents have been beat in all of those years. Five of them were beat in one year,” explained Taylor. “Only one has been beat in the last five elections.”

Taylor is a firm believer that incumbents are usually a safe bet to be re-elected unless they’ve done something pretty significant that has alienated voters.

“I always think that incumbents beat themselves. They do something that doesn’t resonate with the voters, and somebody else is there who’s a good candidate and they win. I look at the six incumbents right now, and I don’t see any obvious defeats, upsets there.”

Ward 1

In Ward 1, Sean Amato, Andrew Knack, Sharon Maclise, Rob Pasay, Jamie Post, and Bryan Sandilands are running for council.

Taylor said one candidate has run a number of times in the area, but that other candidates with some name recognition could create a challenge.

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“Andrew Knack is running for the third time. He ran the first time against Linda [Sloan] and Karen [Leibovici] because it was a twofer ward then,” explains Taylor. “In 2010 he ran just against Linda, because then we were in the 12 ward system, and he came in second. What was interesting is that his numbers came up considerably too.”

Leading up to the 2013 race, Sloan initially announced her plans to run for re-election.  At that time, there were just two candidates in Ward 1: Sloan and Knack.

Taylor said that there was some talk – even among council – that Knack had a chance of defeating Sloan. However, she pulled out of the race, and five more candidates signed up.

Two other candidates Taylor is keeping an eye on are Sandilands and Amato. Sandilands is a businessman whose name is coming up from residents in the ward, and Amato is a former local TV reporter.

“The reason for that – if for no other reason – the name recognition factor plays in there when there’s no incumbent,” he explained.

Still, Taylor believes Knack is likely the front-runner in Ward 1.

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“I think he’s got people that he’s got to beat, but I would say you watch that one for somebody who’s tried twice before… and may end up getting elected because he was persistent and worked very, very hard.”

Ward 2

Running in Ward 2 are Mustafa Ali, Bev Esslinger, Ted Grand, Nita Jalkanen, Don Koziak, Jason Millar, and Shelley Tupper.

Taylor pointed out that Tupper has run three times and Koziak has run six times.

“Don ran once for mayor, and then the rest of the times he ran, he ran for council.”

In the last civic election, Koziak ran against [Kim] Krushell amid a huge debate over the future of the City Centre Airport.

“He came in second last time to Kim, and really ran a strong campaign against Kim, and it was mostly an airport campaign,” explained Taylor. Koziak “was a supporter of keeping the airport open.”

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However, the airport issue has been decided, and a closure date set.

“But there’s Bev Esslinger, and she’s the former chair of the school board, and a school trustee, and has good name recognition,” adds Taylor, “a very solid candidate. Before Don Koziak got in, I would have thought that she would have been certainly the one considered to be a strong front-runner.”

In addition, Taylor isn’t counting out Ted Grand, a community worker who is fairly well-known in the ward.

“That will be a very interesting one to watch because of the Koziak factor, I think.”

Ward 5

In Ward 5, Rodolfo Arcilla, Terry Demers, Jim Gibbon, Mark Grandish, Rob Hennigar, Brian Kendrick, Michael Oshry, Allan Santos, and Alla Ternikova are running to be councillor.

This is the ward Leibovici is currently representing.

“We’ve got somebody who’s run three times in that ward and that’s Terry Demers.”

Taylor said Demers has run in three different wards; Ward 1 in 2004, Ward 3 in 2010, and Ward 5 in 2013.

But, Taylor believes she’s not the only one who’s made a name for herself in that area.

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“There are a few people in there that are fairly well known,” said Taylor, “the head of the brewery company, Jim Gibbon… and there’s some business people running in there. But the big, big name in there, I think and the one who’s got a lot of signs out there is Michael Oshry. Michael and his brother… run Firma, a currency exchange… a couple of years ago they were entrepreneurs of the year. So, this is a serious businessman and I think to see a name like his in that ward is very interesting and you’ve got to consider that he’s going to do well.”

Ward 6

“Ward 6 has 16 people running… that really takes the guessing game to another level,” said Taylor.

Taz Bouchier, Kyle Brown, Candas Dorsey, Derrick Forsythe, Carla Frost, Andrzej Gudanowski, Melinda Hollins, Bryan Kapitza, Heather MacKenzie, Scott McKeen, Erin Northey, Terry Parada, Adil Pirbhai, Javed Sommers, Alfie White, and Dexx Williams are all running in Ward 5.

Taylor pointed out several candidates are familiar with municipal elections, including Pirbhai who has run six times and Kapitza who has run twice.

“Bryan Kapitza ran last time and finished second to Jane. I don’t think he was particularly close second.”

“The other one that ran last time is Scott McKeen. Scott ran in Ward 7 against Tony Caterina last time, and running against an incumbent is always tough. Scott did pretty well, he finished second… I think Scott had a lot of momentum going into this.”

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Still, Taylor has a close eye on another candidate.

“Heather Mackenzie, of course. I think Scott would have to think that she’s a serious contender. She’s a school board trustee, and that gives you name recognition, you’ve been through a municipal election.”

“And there’s a young police officer, Dexx Williams, who’s made a bit of a noise there and who’s worked hard. So there’s some possibilities out there.”

Ward 10

Ward 10 is the ward currently represented by Don Iveson.

Ray Bessel, Hafis Devji, Richard Feehan, Dan Johnstone, and Michael Walters are running to replace Iveson as councillor in this ward.

Taylor said Walters has been involved in municipal and civic affairs for a very, very long time.

“I can remember as far back as when I was on council, he was a young sort of civic activist, getting involved in things,” recalled Taylor, who served as councillor from 1995 to 2001. “He ran for the Alberta Party in the last provincial election…. He’s got a name and he’s been working really hard at this.”

Still, there’s another candidate that Taylor thinks has some name recognition in Ward 10.

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“Richard Feehan, who’s a professor at the university… his name is not unknown, but I think with just the five running, I think Michael has to be considered the candidate to beat, probably.”

Ward 11

Ward 11 is the ward Kerry Diotte currently represents.

There are eight people running to replace him as councillor: Rob Aromin, Sonia Bitar, Mujahid Chak, Dennis Gane, Roberto Maglalang, Mike Nickel, Harvey Panesar, and Brent Schaffrick.

“This ward’s got eight people running, and of those eight, of course the surprise was Mike Nickel coming back.”

Taylor pointed out that this is Nickel’s fifth municipal election. He ran for mayor in 1998, and again in 2001, then ran successfully for council in 2004, but was defeated in 2007 by Iveson.

Taylor believes Nickel’s political history has made his name a familiar one to Edmontonians.

“That, plus the fact of course that he was a councillor for three years, gives him by far the best name recognition of any of the candidates.”

“That may or may not help him,” added Taylor. “These are different voters.”

Taylor highlighted another strong candidate running in Ward 11.

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“Sonia [Bitar]… has been very active in the immigrant community, was a citizen judge… she certainly is well-known for her work with new immigrants, just a whole bunch of volunteer stuff,” said Taylor, who added that Bitar “would be a very solid candidate. I would say if the Mike factor wasn’t there, that would be a real opportunity for a woman to win.”

And, on the topic of gender, Taylor said there is a chance the Edmonton city council elected on Oct. 21 could have no women on it.

“If Karen doesn’t win the mayoralty race, than any female participation on this council … would almost certainly be from one of those wards that doesn’t have an incumbent,” explained Taylor, “because the six wards that do have incumbents all have male incumbents. And I don’t know that I would say any of them are in real trouble.”

Taylor said there are probably three or four strong female candidates in the wards that don’t have incumbents, but doesn’t feel there are any obvious front-runners.

The last time Edmonton didn’t have a single woman on city council was back in 1951.

“Usually there’s been three, four, five or six, and in 1989, the mayor was a female and we had six councillors, so the majority of council was female.”

“Even if we only had one or two it would be very unusual,” said Taylor, adding that this time around, there’s a real risk that Edmonton could end up having none.

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