In ‘Doc’ we trust

St. John’s re-elects Dennis O’Keefe and chooses all-male council

Bonnie Belec
Published on September 25, 2013
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe reacts to being re-elected as mayor of St. John’s at his home Tuesday night. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

The wait for the results on election night in the city of St. John’s seemed to last almost as long as the campaign.

But after the votes were tallied, two hours behind the closing of the polls, the biggest surprise seemed to be the number of votes mayoral candidate Sheilagh O’Leary lost to incumbent Dennis O’Keefe.

Around 10:30 p.m. at the Bella Vista on Torbay Road, where a crowd of O’Leary supporters gathered the room hushed when a woman took to the stage and said the vote was in — “Dennis O’Keefe has been re-elected with 20,047 votes, Sheilagh O’Leary with 14,735 and Geoff Chaulk 589,” she said to the silent crowd who, moments before, had been dancing and singing in front of the stage.

When the numbers were announced, supporters muttered under their breath and the upbeat emotions that had earlier filled the room were replaced with feelings of disappointment.

When she was first elected to council in 2009, O’Leary polled the highest votes of all candidates — more than 24,000.

O’Keefe, surrounded by his friends, family and supporters in his St. John’s home, said the wait for results created some tense moments.

“Yes, I have to say, when the delay went on for an hour or two, you never know — when you have a delay and lineups at the polls, the natural question is who is the line up for, me or my competitors and that led to a bit of anxiety,” he said.

“But I felt confident in the meantime. There was a bit of interpretation, but I felt we ran a good campaign and in the end it turned out very well, I must say. So I’m delighted that people have seen fit to give my leadership and myself a vote of confidence and another four years in office.”

Chaulk, the other mayoral candidate, couldn’t be reached for comment.

As O’Leary, a councillor-at-large for the past four years, took to the stage, she was greeted with loud applause and whistles. She was accompanied by her young son, Owen, who goofed around by his mother’s side as she gave her concession speech.

“He likes to talk more than I do and that’s saying something,” O’Leary said, laughing.

“Obviously, we didn’t get the results that we wanted, but we worked our guts out on this campaign. I worked my guts out on this campaign because I know we deserve a better city,” O’Leary said, as her supporters shouted in agreement.

She said her team put forward a fresh perspective on city life based on respect for each other, smart development and creating safe, flourishing neighbourhoods. She said she will continue to pursue that through the new council.

While O’Leary congratulated O’Keefe and the new council, and was glad to see some new young faces joining, she was disappointed there were no women elected.

For the first time in more than 20 years, St. John’s council will not have any female representation with the loss of O’Leary and the retirements of Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff and Coun. Debbie Hanlon.

“I personally think it’s disgraceful to have no women represented on council. It’s a travesty, living in a society of equal rights, equal times. To not have a woman’s voice at the council table will be shameful. Considering we are 52 per cent of the population and to have zero per cent on council is just wrong,” she said, acknowledging only five women were candidates in the election.

The others were Jennifer McCreath, who ran for deputy mayor, councillor-at-large candidate Deanne Stapleton, Ward 4 candidate Tracy Holmes and Ward 3 candidate Sarah Colborne Penney.

O’Keefe said he would have liked to see more young women running for office, and it’s unfortunate none of the ones who did were successful.

“Hopefully, it will happen in the future, because we need more female representation and more young people on council,” he said.

Around 8:30 p.m., when the results were expected, there were media reports the ballots were delayed getting to city hall due to people registering late in two of the five wards. Election workers couldn’t keep up.  

“The city is very pleased with the voter turnout we had throughout the vote-by-mail period and today at the satellite drop off centres, which experienced particularly high voter turnout late in the evening. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our election workers, the residents who voted and all of the candidates for offering themselves for public office. It was a longer night than we had anticipated, but we are always pleased when people take part in the electoral system,” the city’s communications department said in a statement when asked what had happened.

The new St. John’s council, which will be sworn in during the first week in October, is made up of O’Keefe, Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth, Ward 1 Coun. Danny Breen who was acclaimed, Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Galgay, Ward 3 Coun. Bruce Tilley, Ward 4 Coun. Bernard Davis, Ward 5 Coun. Wally Collins and councillors-at-large Tom Hann, Sandy Hickman, Dave Lane and Art Puddister.

“I feel absolutely terrific,” said O’Keefe, “and I’m glad people have had confidence in my leadership over the past years, and the vote to continue on with the prosperity and growth we have been experiencing.”

According to the city there was a 53 per cent voter turnout in Tuesday’s election.