During the past few months St. John’s Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff has had to take on her toughest opponent in more than 30 years as a city councillor — herself.
Regarded as a vocal proponent for city planning, protecting heritage areas and supporting the arts, Duff announced at council’s Monday meeting she won’t seek re-election in September.
“I have to tell you this has not been an easy decision for me, as my husband will tell you,” she said. “I have wrestled with it for several months making a decision one way and then the other way. My participation in municipal government has been a vitally important part of my life for many years.”
First elected to council in 1977, Duff has served as mayor, councillor-at-large and deputy mayor.
She said while debating the decision with her family, she had to figure out if she could commit to another four-year term and give the work the dedication and commitment it deserves.
She said the two biggest considerations in weighing her options have been her family and her health.
“They have been, in a way, at war with each other over the past month. My husband, Frank, is having great difficulty taking the smile off of his face because of the decision I made,” Duff said.
She said her five children have been incredibly supportive since she first began at city hall, and she knows it wasn’t easy all the time, but they have understood and respected her deep commitment to the city.
“After many discussions I know what they wanted me to do. I’ve tried to fight that a little bit and say I could do both. But the next years of my life with my husband Frank, who I’ve been married to for 54 years, are pretty precious. And they are what I call my last gift of time,” she said.
She said that gift of time will now be spent on relaxed enjoyment with her family.
“The other major consideration, of course, is my health. I’ve always been a healthy and energetic person, but in the last six months I’ve had two major surgeries. Thankfully I have recovered fully and I’m feeling very well right now, but that experience is a shot across the bow,” Duff said.
“It does make you realize how quickly your life can turn upside down, and to run for another term is not a simple decision. It means a 4 1/2-year commitment to this job. I didn’t feel I can be sure that in undertaking that commitment I know I wouldn’t be doing justice to my family, but I’m not even sure I’d be doing justice to the citizens of
St. John’s or to my own health,” she said.
Duff said her decision is an announcement of intent and not a goodbye. She said there’s still four months left in the term and her commitment and energy serving as deputy mayor will remain undiminished.
She received a standing ovation and a round of applause before councillors took a moment to reminisce.
Coun. Danny Breen, who said he started kindergarten in 1967 with Duff’s son, said the deputy mayor is able to get over an argument easily and she’s the type of person who “is tough on the issues while being easy on the person.”
Duff thanked council for their remarks and said Breen’s comment was a “lovely statement to make.” She said she thinks she was born opinionated, and had to focus on the issues and not the people or she wouldn’t have a friend left in the city.
Couns. Gerry Colbert and Frank Galgay have worked with Duff the longest — almost 25 and 16 years respectively.
“I have said in my almost 25 years here, there has been no one that can measure the amount of contribution she has made to the city of St. John’s.
Few people have the passion she has had for our city.
“While she agreed with many changes because she knew they were important for the city, she fought hard to ensure we maintain the history and heritage we have,” Colbert said.
“Today is a sad, but historic moment in the annals of municipal politics in the city of St. John’s,” said Galgay. “We are losing from public life a very outstanding dedicated, classy lady. She and I voted on numerous issues, some we agreed on, some we didn’t, but once it was over that was the end of it, it was nothing personal.”
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe thanked her on behalf of the citizens of
St. John’s for her monumental service to the city and called her a role model for all young women and men aspiring to be community leaders.
St. John’s businessman Ron Ellsworth had coffee with Duff Monday. He said she told him she was making an announcement, but not what it was.
Ellsworth announced in March he was running for the deputy mayor’s position.
“She has had an amazing career,” he told The Telegram Monday evening.
“You’ve got to give her kudos. For someone to be in municipal politics for 32 years and come out with an unblemished record is phenomenal,” he said.
Ellsworth was first elected to council in 2005 as a Ward 4 councillor. Halfway through the term, then-mayor Andy Wells stepped down, bumping then-deputy mayor O’Keefe to mayor, leaving the deputy mayor’s chair empty. Ellsworth ran in the byelection and won.
In the 2009 election Ellsworth offered himself for the position of mayor, but lost to O’Keefe.
“I served with her for four years. She was a good friend and a good confidant helping me work through issues. You don’t necessarily have to like her politics, but if you voted for Shannie Duff you got what you voted for. She never strayed or deviated from working on behalf of the taxpayers,” he said.
When asked if this changes his strategy, he said, “My wanting to be at city hall had nothing to do with anybody else running or not running. I have a very open style I want to bring to city hall and make sure we communicate it well to the taxpayers.”
With Duff’s impending retirement the list of St. John’s councillors not seeking re-election is four — Duff joins Galgay, Colbert and Coun. Debbie Hanlon.