If you can spend 30 years in politics at the municipal level, consistently being re-elected, you have to know that you’re doing something right. And more than that — you have to know that your constituents know you’re doing something right, too.
Monday night, St. John’s Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff announced that she will not be running in this fall’s municipal elections, bringing an end to a career in municipal politics that began in 1977. It marks a loss of experience, knowledge and dedication that cannot help but be felt at city hall.
To put that in some kind of political perspective, Duff started in council when Frank Moores was premier, and kept at it through premiers Brian Peckford, Tom Rideout, Clyde Wells, Brian Tobin, Beaton Tulk, Roger Grimes, Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale — a longevity that none of those premiers has come close to managing.
Duff has been a councillor, deputy mayor and mayor, and won a seat in the House of Assembly — through all of it, she has been a steadfast supporter and protector of the city’s history and heritage, willing to put up with more than her fair share of abuse, not only from some factions of the public, but, in years passed, from other city politicians as well.
She’s put up with everything in council chambers, sometimes looking on council broadcasts like a tattered ship weathering its way through veritable storms of abuse.
And she has done it by maintaining a professionalism that many people would find impossible, thrown into the same circumstances.
One of the things that reporters have found about Duff is that she was always thorough and well prepared to deal with the issues she raised. Politicians often get a bad rap for shooting from the lip, for spouting off on topics that they’ve only given passing thought to. Duff has never belonged to that school. You might hold a different opinion than the deputy mayor, but that doesn’t mean you could poke holes in her research or conclusions.
Not only has Duff been more often than not correct in her analysis, she’s that rare breed of politician who is not afraid to stand up in the chamber and admit if she made a mistake. Her careful analysis extends even to her own career; her decision not to run again was based on a careful analysis of whether or not she would be able to fully commit to a further four years of work. In the final analysis, considering two recent surgeries, she decided that she could not.
Occasionally the lone voice for heritage protection in the city, Duff has made her fair share of enemies. You only have to look at the comments on the stories about her announcement that she wouldn’t be running again to realize the variety of opinions people hold.
That being said, she has always come out ahead on the polls that really mattered — at the ballot box.
She has been this city’s poster child for public service.
Like her policies or hate them, she will be hard to match, and harder to replace.