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 former fire chief Gerry Zimmermann, who topped the councillor poll, Gail Given, the widow of former city councillor Brian Given and a former board of education trustee, former CHBC television news reporters Colin Basran and Mohini Sigh 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 reported—those cast during four days of advanced voting.
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 well back with just 1,000 votes (3.37 per cent), 749 votes (2.52 per cent) and 370 votes (1.25 per cent) respectively.
“That was close,” said Gray, speaking after delivering his acceptance speech to about 100 supporters at the Coat Capri Hotel Saturday night.
“If we had slowed down at one bend (during the campaign), we would have lost tonight.”
Gray, who pledged during the campaign and again Saturday night to “get Kelowna moving again,” called the new make-up of council the “perfect team,” adding he did not feel it will be a developer-driven council but rather one that will signal to business and investors that the city 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 citing examples of development that had occurred in Kelowna during the six years she was mayor.
Gray told his supporters he wants to “re-inspire” the community over the next three years and wants to re-energize people. “I won’t let you down and I will work hard,” he vowed. “I just love this city.”
For Shepherd, who after nine years as a city councillor defeated Gray in the 2006 mayoral election and was then re-elected mayor in 2008, the loss ended a political career in a nail-biting evening where she watched her wafer-thin lead in the numbers evaporate at the last possible moment.
“Well, my family will get me back,” said a disappointed Shepherd after being told she had lost the election by just 421 votes.
To add to the tension of the night, 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 describes himself as more of a chairman of the board than a mayor, over the top.
Gray has been described as more of a “big picture” person than Shepherd, known for her attention to detail and her ability to cite examples of projects the city has taken on and completed.
When asked if there was one issue that may have cost her the election, Shepherd said the CD-21 zone that was rejected by council two years ago.
The proposed rezoning, which Shepherd and a majority of council opposed, would have allowed highrise development in a four-block area of downtown. It 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 and support by the previous council in its early stages.
Calling the opposition to her during the campaign some of the nastiest she has experienced during an election, Shepherd said that she was happy with how her campaign was conducted.
While both Gray and Shepherd took the high road in exchanges with each other, their respective supporters did attack each candidate harshly at times, especially in the waning days of the campaign.
Gray was targeted for how he dealt with proclamations in the past and Shepherd was criticized for refusing campaign donations from developers but accepting them, and then returning them, from the firefighter’s union.
Like Gray, Shepherd said the public obviously wanted a change on council, both at the top and among the councillors, and the election result reflected that.
The voter turnout was 33 per cent, much higher than the 19.4 per cent in 2008.
Shepherd praised the incumbents who were not re-elected for the work they have done on council over the last three years, saying she felt they all contributed greatly to their city and had served their community well.
The new council will be sworn in Dec. 5.