Smith: Former mayor tries to live down colourful past

My coworker was driving down Harvey the other day, looked up and saw a rather unusual use of the pedestrian overpass.

My coworker was driving down Harvey the other day, looked up and saw a rather unusual take on how to use the pedestrian overpass.

One-time Kelowna mayor Walter Gray had his supporters out literally waving the flag for his mayoral campaign during rush hour, almost causing said coworker to drive off the road.

It was likely the first time the sight of Walter Gray has ever caused anyone to veer into oncoming traffic and immediately began to conjure humorous images.

“Somebody should call the LGTB crowd and tell them there was an invitation to do some flag waving literally hanging in the air,” I said. “It could be a duel—the rainbows versus the true blues.”

Gray was always an interesting character in my memory. Never one for perspicuous commentary, I always remember him through this one comical speech he gave to a group of bureaucrats.

The event was a luncheon launching the KickStart “Take the Stairs” program, and the story Gray told at the reception was about how much he enjoyed the first escalator Kelowna had installed.

To the uninitiated it was a little bizarre, though certainly a funny, light-hearted moment. To the rest of my coworkers, it was simply a typical Walterism.

Always the affable host, he was famous for putting a certain shine on the business, development approach and the Conservative values that Kelowna was famous for embodying.

But the image that was once his ace in the hole, is making his attempt to re-enter politics more difficult.

This week, for example, one more of Gray’s more serious gaffes reared its head when a politically-attune graffiti artist sprayed rainbows across his campaign office.

Aside from his silver tongue, Gray is famous for eliminating the word “pride” from a Gay Pride proclamation. The error brought him before a human rights tribunal, earned Kelowna a national reputation for its attempt to proclaim Gay Day and forever seems to have married the Gray name to the pride cause as fall-out from the incident in 2000 persists.

While not accepting guilt, per se, the former mayor now says he is sorry that so many people were hurt by the incident.

Given the continent-wide attempt to deal with the bullying, victimization and the stigma associated with being anything other than straight, one has to wonder how this will wash.

One hesitates to call the number of public suicides by homosexual youth an epidemic—surely, these events have occurred for decades without the collective spotlight—but the sad stories now peppering the news have certainly generated attention to the issue.

To be fair, Gray was elected to a third term after he tried to make Gay Day a less proud affair; but in an era where one of the country’s most pithy political commentators and comics, Rick Mercer, can demand gay politicians out themselves to support gay youth, it will be interesting to see whether he can truly live down his colourful past.

A lot has changed in the decade that’s past.

jsmith@kelownacapnews.com