Slow start to the campaign

It’s still early in the municipal election campaign, but already certain storylines have begun to develop.

It’s still early in the campaign, but already certain storylines have begun to develop.

When nominations closed last week, it was disappointing to see such an uninspiring ballot in the Nelson race for mayor and council. Three candidates for mayor and only incumbent John Dooley realistically has a shot of winning. On the council side we lose one of the bright stars in Kim Charlesworth and only three others will challenge the current five incumbents.

It’s sad and somewhat disturbing that the days when the Central School stage felt like a Spiritbar mosh pit are gone. Not too many years ago there were 19 names on the council ballot. Though sometimes a little overwhelming, it was refreshing when we had the opportunity to sample so many different viewpoints.

Figuring out the source of apathy is not easy.

The simplest conclusion would be that this current council has done such an amazing job over the last three years that few felt the need to challenge. That can’t be it, because when it comes to steering the direction of this community, it’s always easy to find blemishes.

When compared to elections past, over this last term there were few wedge issues and even less controversial developments that tend to make some locals squirrely. No buskers on Baker Street, no massive business license fee increases, no cloak-and-dagger Walmart sagas, no multi-million dollar recreation facility proposals, no Kutenai Landing. This council touts a bunch of reports and vision documents as its successes. Pretty dry stuff and not really known to incite the passion of prospective challengers.

So on the council ballot we have five incumbents and three challengers. Only two won’t be heading to a seat at city hall. The lack of real choice means voters will need to be even more diligent when it comes to making a final choice on November 19.

The race for mayor is hardly that. From first glance it looks like a coronation of John Dooley. It’s been some time since a mayor has not faced a serious challenge. No Judy Gayton, no Dave Elliott, no David Aaron, no Gord McAdams. It’s clear Dooley’s popularity and record over the last two has scared off many a challenger.

Void of any serious contender, Dooley’s main challenger has become Richard Rowberry. The local thespian entered the race as a bit of lark. Prompted by the ghost of Nelson’s first mayor, John Houston, Rowberry confesses he filed his papers more as research for a play he is writing. Though not in his initial plans, Rowberry now admits the stakes have been raised with the lack of competition for the mayor’s chair.

“It’s becoming more serious,” he told me from rehearsal of his upcoming play Blithe Spirit.

In the last few days Rowberry says he has been approached by many people who want him to start taking his shot at Dooley more seriously. So now the challenger has been forced to step up his efforts and create a campaign built by the people that will offer an alternate vision to that of the current mayor.

“His vision needs to be broadened,” Rowberry said of Dooley.

Unlike mayoral races of the past, don’t expect this one to get nasty.

“Being a politician is hugely sacrificial… I like him and admire him,” Rowberry said. “We should all be very thankful for what he has done for this community… they should name a bridge after him or something.”

With a rather uninspiring race for seats at Nelson’s city hall, the most zesty action might come from the Regional District of Central Kootenay. More than ever, legitimate challengers have stepped forward for what should be many spirited races.

The dialogue is sure to be interesting in Area D (rural Kaslo and Lardeau Valley) where incumbent Andy Shadrack is being challenged by the son his former political sparring partner, Larry Greenlaw. Like his father, we should expect Ron Greenlaw to carry the flag of industry from his base in Meadow Creek. If the battles between the elder Greenlaw and Shadrack are any indication, it should be an interesting campaign.

Perhaps the two most interesting races for city residents are in Areas E and F. Our closest rural neighbours will have choice and both incumbents will be pushed.

Coming off his loss to Michelle Mungall in the last provincial election, former director and former Liberal party candidate Josh Smienk is taking another crack at local politics. Smienk held the seat for what seemed like forever, many times adding fuel to the battles between rural and city taxpayers. Incumbent Ramona Faust has been much easier to work with when it comes to issues involving the city and perhaps that’s the reason Smienk has resurfaced. This is a race that should not only interest voters in the Balfour/Procter/Blewett areas, but city taxpayers as well.

Area F is no stranger to controversy, but it seems how we dispose of our waste has spurred a race. In part because of his support for the transfer station move to an area near Pacific Insight, incumbent Ron Mickel now faces a challenge from Mike Keegan, whose community participation resume should make this a tight race. (Bruce Montgomery, who filed his nomination papers, has since withdrawn.)

It’s not going to be the most compelling election campaign in recent memory, but we can only hope the plotlines thicken over the next couple weeks and get us excited about heading to the ballot box in mid-November.

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