As we welcome a new mayor at Nelson’s City Hall, it seems fitting to take a peek back at a man who should be remembered as one of our community’s best ever.
I first met John Dooley in 1999 when he was taking his first shot at a city council seat. The late-’90s in this community were extremely tumultuous. The previous three years were full of controversy on many levels. I quickly discovered that John was a dedicated community volunteer who felt compelled to bring his get ‘er done approach to City Hall.
I had a front row seat that year as a city hall reporter for the Nelson Daily News. As was the case during those wild years, the council ballot in 1999 was deep and diverse.
I wasn’t sure what chance John stood on election day, but his charm and easy conversation certainly made him stand out.
John won in 1999 and again in 2002. Those years were no less controversial. What I remember most about John in that period was his dedication to make the community better.
Most vividly was his campaign to let the provincial government know that the cuts they made to our health services and regional offices were not acceptable.
The difference with John and some other community leaders was that instead of lashing out and creating enemies at the senior levels, he took an approach of dialogue.
He was angry and made that known, but instead of looking for easy sound bites he sought long-term solutions. That approach persisted throughout his time at City Hall.
When John took on incumbent mayor Dave Elliott in the 2005 mayoral race, many didn’t give him a chance. Still stinging from the Gary Exner defeat three years prior, the traditional right-of-centre supporters seemed shy to throw support behind John.
Undeterred by the lack of initial support, John kept hitting the street. Conversation by conversation, John slowly built the trust of those who had given up on local government.
By election day he had all the momentum and was swept into the city’s top job.
Unlike the previous decade of strife at City Hall, John’s nine years in the mayor’s chair were relatively trouble free. Of course there were battles and controversy, but John’s leadership style of getting it done enabled the city to stay on a path of steady progress.
Our community is a better place thanks to John’s nine years as mayor. He had a major hand in tangible projects like the community complex, the Kootenay Lake Hospital upgrade and the skatepark. His dedication to improving the infrastructure – which was his major campaign plank during the 2005 mayor race – has put our community far ahead of others across the province and country.
John’s biggest impact and legacy will likely be the relationships he built outside of our community. His pride in Nelson was obvious to all those he touched. When he spoke to senior government officials or other community leaders from coast-to-coast, his passion for those he represented was something that earned him respect well beyond our borders. That respect didn’t happen overnight and will be dearly missed.
Was he perfect? Of course not. Perfection in politics is unattainable. But John deserves to be remembered as one of the great leaders in Nelson’s history.
The leadership he provided this community and the steps he made to move us forward in his nine years in the mayor’s office will be something all future leaders can be measured against as they strive to leave their own mark.
On election night, John was obviously crushed by the defeat. But he quickly told his supporters gathered that night to get behind new mayor Deb Kozak. He’s right.
The mayor-elect has the makings of another great mayor and I’m looking forward to seeing how she will contribute to making our community an even better place to live.