St. John’s, Paradise, C.B.S. election races represented at debate
For those who have already been following the election race for St. John’s mayor, there may have been few surprises in how the two perceived frontrunners presented themselves to the public during a Tuesday evening debate.
© — Photo by Amy Fitzpatrick/Special to The Telegram
St. John’s mayoral candidates Dennis O’Keefe and Sheilagh O’Leary respond to questions from the audience and panellists at the St. John’s Board of Trade 2013 Regional
Mayoral Debate held at the Bella Vista on Torbay Road in St. John’s Tuesday evening. The panellists are (from left) Denis Mahoney, chairman of the St. John’s Board of Trade; Bonnie Belec, Telegram municipal affairs reporter; Darren O’Keefe, chairman of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador; and Steve Bartlett, Telegram assignment editor.
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe’s message came straight from his election signs posted throughout the city — leadership.
“This election is about leadership,” said the incumbent. “It is about proven leadership. It is about the leadership that is absolutely necessary in order to take advantage of the challenges that are surely going to come our way over the next few years. It is about leadership necessary to take advantage of the opportunities that are going to come our way over the next few years.”
Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary spoke of leadership, but also focused on the need for new ideas in city hall.
“We need active leadership to take full advantage of opportunities as they present themselves,” said O’Keefe’s challenger, currently a councillor-at-large. “I know well there are things we can do better. Running the business of this city the way we always have is no longer good enough. We are in a whole new game and we must expect more.”
Both candidates had plenty more to say at the regional mayoral debate, which also involved mayoral candidates from Paradise and Conception Bay South. From Paradise, there was Coun. Dan Bobbett, Deputy Mayor Allan English and political newcomer Darryl Power. Representing C.B.S. were Mayor Woodrow French and Ken McDonald.
St. John’s candidate Geoff Chaulk, Paradise candidate Kurtis Coombs and C.B.S. candidate Gord Taylor were not present for Tuesday’s debate, which was held in St. John’s at the Bella Vista.
O’Keefe and O’Leary were front and centre for the first half of the event, taking questions from a panel and answering those selected from audience suggestions.
Highlighting his vision for downtown St. John’s, O’Keefe called the area the “heart and soul of the city.” While he made note of the need to protect its heritage value, he also mentioned the necessity of development in the area to spur economic growth.
O’Leary spoke of downtown St. John’s in nostalgic terms, saying the city would be foolish not to protect its heritage value. She said the city should collaborate with architects to create a beautiful harbourfront and make efforts to prevent further gentrification, she said. O’Leary suggested bringing back a traffic cop to replace lights at the intersection of Prescott Street and Duckworth Street.
On community building, O’Leary said stakeholders need to be encouraged to get together and talk about their roles in creating areas where people feel comfortable living. O’Keefe cited the need for more mixed-use neighbourhoods with features that highlight a good quality of life, such as walking trails, bike lanes and parks.
There were contrasting opinions about the city’s control of administrative costs and its transparency. O’Keefe said the city had a good handle on both items, citing multiple budget surpluses and the frequency of public meetings at city hall.
O’Leary said a recent reorganization of senior staffing positions was handled in a disrespectful fashion and will cost the city financially. She also questioned the practice of bringing up development issues in private meetings prior to public ones.
In the race to replace Mayor Ralph Wiseman in Paradise, Bobbett said the community has experienced tremendous growth, adding that if elected mayor, he would manage future growth to Paradise’s benefit.
English said he has already visited thousands of homes in Paradise. While aware of the challenges his community will face, English said he has the education and skill set necessary to best serve its interests.
Power, who appeared to be the youngest candidate at Tuesday’s event, was critical of how Paradise’s growth has been managed. He said there is a need for more parks, sidewalks and new shopping areas.
Regarding C.B.S., French said the community has been well-served by his leadership over the last eight years and boasted about projects that have benefitted the community, such as the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre and the Worsley Park project for seniors.
McDonald promised to implement a modern planning process that would strive to include residents and developers. He also spoke of the need for an audit committee to deal with transparency issues with council and a committee focused on the needs of seniors.
Tuesday’s debate was hosted by the St. John’s Board of Trade and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Telegram was a partner for the debate.