Until a week ago, “six of one, a half dozen of another” pretty much summed up our fall mayoralty election. It looked like a two-horse race between Mayor Don Atchison and Coun. Charlie Clark. Then mayor emeritus Henry Dayday galloped onto the field and more recently Kelley Moore, a potential dark horse. It may not be the Kentucky Derby, but it will be race.
With the exception of a few faux pas, over his 13 years as mayor, I think Atchison has been a reasonable ambassador for Saskatoon. He has probably been the most visible mayor we have ever had in that he attends almost all events, large or small. He knows the political landscape and he undoubtedly has an expansive rolodex file connecting him to the powers that be.
Clark has served on council for 10 years. He is neither stellar nor lacklustre and successfully avoids all political doo doo. I’m not quite sure why Clark is challenging Atchison’s leadership as they went forward together, hand-in-hand, on pretty much everything that has transpired over the decade. Although Clark has become more visible at events over that last year, he gets less recognition as a councillor than a mayor does and cannot compete with Atchison for visibility.
Both Atchison and Clark have supported the extravagant capital spending on the new art gallery, although Clark currently sits on the gallery board that promotes ever-increasing and excessive operating costs. However, both have voted for the spending.
Both serve on the police commission and facilitated the construction of our glorified police station and its ever-increasing operating budget. The only difference between the two on this issue is that Clark wants to expand the commission and turn it over to community appointees, while Atchison wants to keep it under the control of council.
Both have supported massive capital spending, debt creation and large tax increases. Then again, for the best part, so have the rest of council.
Atchison is decisive and tends to trudge forward on issues regardless of community opposition. Clark tends to want to consult and garner community input and at times appears dithering. The best example of this is, when responding to a public outcry on council spending $18 million on outside consultants, Atchison defended the expenditures and Clark wanted to hire a consultant to advise council as to whether the city was spending too much on consultants.
From my perspective, the only significant difference between the two is that Atchison appears to be lukewarm on biking infrastructure and Clark is gung-ho on it. As to political ideology, Atchison is viewed as a right-wing politico and Clark looks for support from those espousing left-wing viewpoints.
But we are not without choice because former mayor Henry Dayday is lined up ready to serve again. His campaign is primarily based on good budgeting and fiscal responsibility. Although there have been some unkind comments on his comeback attempt, his participation in this election may help focus public discourse on civic spending. The camps supporting Atchison do not welcome his involvement as they think he may drain voter support from their candidate — and they may be right given the recent polling published in The StarPhoenix indicated Dayday had 15 per cent of the decided vote at the time of polling.
About a week ago, Kelley Moore entered the race. Her profile states she has experience in small business, working with government and was a former City of Saskatoon planner. She wants to put the “public” back in public service. Her former employment at City Hall gives her some understanding on how civic government works.
However, there are voters who believe you need to have some experience on council before reaching for the golden ring and it will be an uphill climb to convince them otherwise. Personally, I don’t think you need the council experience — you just need to be reasonably bright and exercise some common sense. Case in point would be Calgary’s popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who won his election in 2010 without first serving on council, and went on to win re-election in 2013 with 73.6 per cent of the popular vote. Besides, I think back to councillors who served for years and still weren’t qualified to run for mayor. Alas, the camps supporting Clark are beating Moore up on social media because they think she will drain voter support from their candidate. All is fair in love, war and politics.
In checking out candidate websites for platform highlights, all four are touting “back to basics” in one form or another. Atchison and Clark have a bit of a credibility problem on this issue, given their past performances. Dayday gets points here as he has all along voiced this mantra and Moore can’t be challenged on this issue.
On the previously referred-to polling, factoring in the margin of error, Atchison and Clark were tied for voter support, and Dayday had 15 per cent, leaving about 26 per cent of undecided voters up for grabs. Perhaps those electors, coupled with the “anybody but” voters, will think maybe it is time to sweep out the same old tired way of doing business and vote for change. Moore could be a dark horse.
Running a mayoral race is not cheap, so Atchison and Clark will have an edge on Dayday and Moore, because they have been actively fundraising since spring and their campaign coffers will be full. Atchison and Clark also have an advantage, in that over the years they had access to their tax-funded communications allowances to promote themselves.
The big donor money has already been given, so Dayday and Moore will have to rely on the generosity of members of the public that want to level the playing field and encourage citizen involvement in civic politics by donating smaller sums to their campaigns.
The race is on — place your bets!