Gray squeaks out a close victory for Kelowna mayor
Walter Gray is going back to the mayor's office.
And he will be joined on Kelowna city council by five new faces, as only three incumbents were re-elected— Robert Hobson, Andre Blanleil and Luke Stack.
The newcomers on council will be are former fire chief Gerry Zimmermann, who topped the council poll, former television news reporters Colin Basran and Mohini Sigh, Gail Given, the widow of former city councillor Brian Given and a former board of education trustee, and Maxine DeHart, a local hotelier and Capital News business columnist.
In one of the closest mayoral races in Kelowna in memory, incumbent Sharon Shepherd led the race right until the last polling station's numbers were revealed—those cast during four days of advanced voting.
"That was close," said Gray, speaking after delivering his acceptance speech to about 100 supporters at the Coast Capri Hotel. "If we had slowed down at one bend (during the campaign), we would have lost tonight."
Gray, who pledged to "get Kelowna moving again," called the new make-up of council the "perfect team" adding he did not feel it is a developer-driven council but rather one that will signal to business and investors that council is in his words, open for business again.
It was a message he hammered home during the campaign and one that Shepherd found herself defending against time and time again despite using examples of development that has occurred in the city over the last six years,
For Shepherd, who defeated Gray easily in 2006 and was then re-elected in 2008, the loss ended a nail-biting evening where she watched her, at times, wafer-thin lead in the race evaporate at the last possible moment.
To add to the tension, the city's website—which was updating the election numbers—crashed with just the advance poll numbers and those from the Orchard Park Shopping Centre voting station to be announced.
At that point, Shepherd was leading by just 0.3 per cent. But it was the advance poll numbers that put Gray, who likes to describe himself as more of a chairman of the board than a mayor, over the top.
In the end, Gray received 13,995 votes, or 47.14 per cent of the vote and Shepherd received 13,574 votes, 45.72 per cent of the vote.
The three other mayoral candidates, Cal Condy, Ken Chung and Kim Ouellette all finished back with just 1,000 votes (3.37 per cent), 749 votes (2.52 per cent) and 370 votes (1.25 per cent) respectively.
When asked if there was one issue that may have cost her the election, Shepherd cited the long-dead CD-21 zone. The zone, which would have allowed highrise development in a four-block area of downtown, was defeated at final reading by the current council shortly after it was elected in early 2009, following nearly three years of study and delay.
Shepherd, who said the loss means her family will now "have me back," said she was proud of the work she accomplished as mayor and the campaign she ran.
Like Gray, she said the public obviously wanted a change on council both at the top and among the councillors and the result reflected that. She praised the incumbent councillors who were not re-elected, saying she felt they had done a good job and served the community well.
She wished Gray luck, saying she hoped he could move the community forward.
Gray acknowleged the next three years will be tough for the new council because of the economy, but he added that despite an opinion of him that he is only about business and is too pro-development, he intends to continue the city's focus on social issues as well as promote Kelowna as place to do business and invest.
"And part of that is housing for the working poor and creating jobs for people here, he said."