How Each of the Five Mayoral Candidates Can Win*

The St. Catharines Mayoral election has approximately 10 more days of campaigning left. The race is wide open, and frankly, victory is available for the taking. In this post I’m going to lay out how each candidate can win the election in the next ten days.

Now, according to the Forum poll from October 10th, Jeff Burch is leading the way currently. This was affirmed by Burch himself and (mistakenly) by his two main opponents at the last debate. Burch has also been touting the poll frequently in his social media accounts and website. What’s important to keep in mind though is not that Burch is in the lead, but that only 23% of committed voters are voting for Burch. Even leaving alone that other candidates could take a bite out of that 23% support in the coming days, that means over three quarters of the electorate are not voting for Burch (at this time.) Wide open.

With only one debate and 10 days left, let’s look at what each candidate can do to win.

*Some housekeeping: as genius as I am, I can’t divine a single, reasonable way that Mark Stevens or Jim Fannon can actually win the election, but they can achieve victory in different ways.

For kicks, let’s go in ascending order based on that Forum poll.

Jim Fannon (3% in Forum Poll): As stated, I don’t think Jim Fannon has a reasonable chance of winning this election. I think Jim Fannon would admit that (he admitted he was a long shot soon after filing.) Fannon’s greatest outcome in this race would be a return to relative “Niagara political” relevance. He has been on a “relevance decline” of sorts, since at least 2006 when he was the local federal Green candidate. Since then he’s done: not much, in terms of politics, save for his CKTB radio show being cancelled after a brief run. Having shed the partisan politics to focus on local, this campaign feels like a “foot in the door” for Fannon to participate in the political conversation again.

My 10-day plan for him would consist of continuing to use humour and criticism of the mainstreamers to generate mentions, but supplement that by adding to his drastic reform ideas some reasonable, short-term ideas. He has shown he can be a part of the conversation again, now he needs to show he can be a serious candidate. This means not just needling the others, but promoting some of his own ideas (even if that means writing them down.) If he does that (and stays active during the next four years), I see no reason why he can’t be a viable candidate for Regional Council in 2018.

Mark Stevens (5%): Stevens is like Fannon. Stevens is nothing like Fannon. Okay, okay. Best case scenario for Stevens, like Fannon, is political relevance, not being the Mayor of St. Catharines. Unlike Fannon, though, Stevens is coming completely out of the blue. Yes, yes, I know he’s contributed to his community in different ways in the past and should be lauded for that. But politically speaking, he’s a brand new face/voice. In a lot of ways, he’s won already. Most, if not all, the other candidates and many media voices have praised his development over the course of the campaign. He speaks honestly and has attainable goals for the city. He asked some cutting questions of his fellow candidates at the last debate and even was endorsed by one, in a way.

My plan for Stevens is simple: be better prepared at the next debate. I fully believe he will be since he’s improved in every debate, but I think he would gain a lot of points if he could go a full debate without saying “I don’t know much about that” to a question about something a prospective mayor should know. If he can prepare for those questions and deliver smart answers, he may move from fringe candidate (5% support) to something closer to mainstream. At the last debate, Stevens mentioned he wanted to see some change so it made sense to become involved and run for Mayor. I think Stevens should tweak that goal a little bit. He can get some political capital from this campaign and if he can keep it up over the next four years, a successful run for a City Council spot could be on the cards. From there, who knows? Mark Stevens for Mayor, 2022?

Peter Secord (15%): Secord is a really tough nut to crack. On the one hand, he had a lot of momentum by announcing his candidacy very early. On the other, he took some criticism for seemingly changing his stripes upon going from Councillor Secord to Candidate Secord. On the one hand, he looked to be the conservative, “book-managing” candidate a lot of people thought St. Catharines would need after a period of spending. On the other, he has allowed himself to be trumped by the introduction of a more charismatic candidate who also had conservative support**. On the one hand, he’s a strong, mainstream candidate with a local political and business background that should see him draw on Ward support and business support. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to actually want to be Mayor, compared to the enthusiasm, fervour and passion Burch and Sendzik’s campaigns have featured. He has specific plans, which is great, but they don’t seem to be engendering a lot of praise. I can’t figure him out, but maybe that’s my own failure.

**(Digression: the split in the small ‘c’ conservatives during this election could be a novella in itself. At a time when a conservative candidate had a good chance of winning, the big players (both prominent and behind the scenes) have got involved but after years of working together for Dykstra, Siscoe, Hudak etc., have divided themselves, for various personal and political reasons, between Sendzik and Secord. In the process they may have torpedoed their chance to have their ideology represented in the next term.  Would love to do a long post about it if I could ever get more inside information. So much intrigue for one part of one municipal race.)

Anyway, my plan for Secord is relatively simple. At the next debate, he needs to focus on conveying why he wants to be mayor. I have no idea right now other than maybe he thought he could and it was the next logical step. That’s not enough. The worst mud you can sling at Sendzik’s intentions is that he’s ambitious. I think that’s great. There is no doubting for me that Sendzik really, really wants to be mayor. Burch, rightly or wrongly, seems to genuinely believe he’s the best candidate to carry on McMullan’s legacy. They have genuine reasons for running and let people know about them. Secord? I don’t see it. The Federal Conservatives want to get more involved in local politics so maybe Dykstra figured Secord was his best bet. But man, don’t let people think that! So, step 1: passion and belief. Step 2: new substance. As I’ve said previously, I don’t like his tax freeze idea. I think it ultimately hurts the citizens of St. Catharines long-term for the short-term benefit of a couple bucks a month to property owners. BUT, it is an idea that will appeal to a lot of residents who don’t think long-term and just want to see their tax bill go down. These residents will vote a lot. That’s good for Secord, that’s a good play. But now he needs some new plays to supplement it. I wouldn’t promote his “business council” idea any more as it doesn’t seem to be well-thought or well-supported. Other than freezing taxes, what is the city, under Mayor Secord going to do differently? This is difficult when you’re advocating a tax freeze; it is hard to promise goodies with less money. But even just in process: will there be more public open houses? Less committees? Zoning changes to promote growth? Incentives for residential development in the downtown core? Just give us something, Secord. You have the vote of those who wish to see taxes down; but it has got you to 15%. You need more. This debate is your last chance, since you don’t utilize web or social media as well as other candidates.

Walter Sendzik (16%): A quick note: I wrote the most about Sendzik in the last post. While not a conscious choice, this was likely due my being most frustrated with his campaign. This is because as a young person in Niagara, I would love to see a Sendzik-type Mayor. He is young himself, he’s enthusiastic, he’s not an “old boy” and he has shown a genuine interest and commitment to the area’s welfare in the last 8 years.  He has a long-term vision of St. Catharines and its place in Niagara and the world. The problem? That’s all it is, a vision. Sendzik has goals and they sound well and good. His vision sounds great. When I read his website, the “vision” section sounds wonderful and makes me excited to see his plan to achieve that is vision. But there is no plan, yet. I thought originally he could run on one big idea and win because he had strong starting support and team. But he hasn’t picked a big issue to run on. It is hard for me to believe his experienced campaign team thought he could parachute into this election, have the same general vision of Burch’s campaign team and win. Harder still for me to believe anyway thought his Port Place gambit was a good one. The 16% support he has now is probably the same support he had the day he announced his campaign, which is a great starting point but I can’t imagine how he thought that number would grow without specific ideas.

My path to victory for Sendzik is simple: tell us your specific plans and don’t mention Port Place, unless it is to say “these guys haven’t done anything to whip this developer into shape, I will.” We are past the point where he can drop one big concrete idea and coast to victory. We know his team uses web and social media regularly, so use that! If I were him I would start dropping concrete, specific ideas every single day until election day (and maybe this has started, he has a video about restoring beaches up as of Wednesday. This isn’t really a plan per se, but at least an idea others haven’t touched on.)  So don’t say “increase mixed-use development downtown”; say “modernize the complex zoning by-laws that hold back downtown development and provide incentives for business and residents to re-locate there.” Not “pursue business and remove barriers” but “as my first priority, use my knowledge of business needs as former Chamber CEO to reduce wait times for permits but removing two layers of bureacracy.” You want GO Transit? Great. Everyone wants GO. How’re you the one to get it? What would you do differently than Burch or Secord? Just tell us, please. Give me a plan, not platitudes. You don’t need to work so hard selling yourself; sell your unique ideas. And don’t mention Port Place or its developer in anything other than the negative light it deserves.

Jeff Burch (23%): Burch, like Secord, is a good candidate. He has local political experience and experience within the labour movement. He seems to be generally respected a City Councillor and has strong Ward support. He has similar generalized vision points as Sendzik but has differentiated by putting out some very specific ideas on his website, such as enhancing the Enterprise Centre in St. Catharines to help businesses and his Green plan. He has generally handled himself well at debates, despite a target on his back. He has wide-ranging base of support/endorsements, from labour to politicians to educators to big business. He is the closest thing to an incumbent there is in the race, and incumbents have a great track record locally. So, having acknowledged those things…isn’t 23% a very disappointing support number? Should his campaign really be touting this as a positive that 77% of people haven’t committed to Burch?! Look, it’s a tough and big field of candidates so he gets some slack. But in a year where the conservative/corporate vote is seemingly split, and his two other candidates haven’t capitalized on opportunities, shouldn’t he have a more significant lead?!

Burch is acting like a front-runner and that is fine. I praised him for seeming mature during the last debate and I do feel he comported himself fine. But, in the last 10 days he can’t get lazy or complacent. There’s a huge chunk of people who aren’t voting for him, as of the last poll. Big or good moves by either Secord or Sendzik will seem him surpassed if he sits idle.

For the last debate, he better be prepared for the targeting and have a better answers prepared for silly questions other than just “that’s a silly question.” He will need to keep pace with the Secord and Sendzik campaigns, which should have renewed pushes in the final 10 days. It is clear from the poll that he doesn’t have the support of many, yet. How will he get that? He needs to stay active and add even more substance to his campaign. “Status quo” isn’t an exciting thing to run on. It might make sense at a time like this, but it isn’t going to motivate undecided and isn’t going to motivate supporters to make sure they vote. He needs to make it clear how a city under Mayor Burch will be improved than the city under Mayor McMullan (that doesn’t mean Mayor McMullan was bad, but people expect progress.) Finally, at the last debate he needs to come off as more mayor-like than his competitors, and that doesn’t mean remaining seated and chuckling off questions.

Everything is left to play for. Should be an exciting week. Thanks for reading.

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