Municipal politics is a very, very silly bit of business. There’s a quote Ricker Mercer made about it years ago that I’ve been desperately trying to remember, but I think it goes something like this: Only crazy people get involved in politics, and only the truly crazy go into municipal politics. Which sounds about right.
In most municipal politics, there is a limited amount of damage a local council can do. Oh, I know, they can still screw things up. I’ve covered enough small town councils in my day to be very much aware of this (one council stopped giving me the minutes to their meetings after some negative stories, resulting in a few angry phone calls back and forth to Municipal Affairs). But the fact is that Big Brother is always there to bail them out. Big Brother being the provincial government.
That’s not really the case with St. John’s. Oh, they’re just as crazy a lot as any small town council. But there’s not much in the way of help coming from the provincial government. A bit of cash now and then. But if you live in St. John’s and need help with something, go ahead and call your local MHA. See how far you get. I’ve said this before on this blog and it’s worth saying again – I had a still sitting MHA tell me once that St. John’s MHAs wouldn’t know the difference between a fire alarm and the phone, both go off that infrequently.
This is a long-winded way of saying that as silly as the upcoming byelections for city council are, they may also be the most important municipal elections in 30 years.
City councils are remarkably stagnant beasts. Once someone gets elected it’s awfully, awfully hard to get them out of there. They generally have to die, retire or fuck-up spectacularly. There’s no political party winds of change to unroost them. Every municipal election the same crowd run and the same crowd normally gets re-elected, by name recognition as much as anything else.
However, this by-election offers a rare opportunity, thanks to some good old-fashioned political greed.
Wells resignation started a predictable chain-reaction. Wells might have been full of crap when he said a byelection for mayor would cost $500,000, but he was right in the sense that when you toss in all the dominos that began to fall when he quits, it will cost about half a million dollars.
So Doc O'Keefe steps down as deputy mayor to run for mayor. That means there has to be an election to fill his job. At least two councilors are thinking about running for that position, which means there has to be a byelection for those empty spots. Not to mention one of the ward councilors is thinking about a run for mayor himself, and that means another byelection.
That could mean five of the 11 seats on council are now up for grabs. Maybe more, maybe less. But that’s a good voting block right there. It might have changed since ’05, but when I covered council, it frequently split 6-5 on controversial issues.
But it’s not just the voting block. City Council is often called “The Bunker” because that ghastly building looks like something the Americans might have built during World War II to fortify the city from German attack. And just as most of that building is set in concrete, so are most of the opinions from council.
But here’s a chance to change that. With so many current councilors running for new positions, there’s a real chance for turnover. With some luck, each currently sitting councilor could actually lose. That could mean five completely new faces on council.
And lord, if there was ever a place in need of new faces, new blood and a touch of youth, St. John’s City Council is the place. It hasn’t been serious shaken up in decades. The animosity, bitterness and nastiness has been locked in. I swear, they should get a member of each organized religion along with a pagan or two to do a cleansing ceremony after the June elections. Just to purge whatever linger negative energy is still kicking around.
It might be a dream, but it is a chance to shake the place up. And it’s the best one the people of St. John’s have had in quite some time. Jump at it.
1. Take it on the run - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies*
2. One more night - Stars
3. King of pain - The Police
4. My party - Kings of Leon
5. Italian plastic (live) - Crowded House