How three rivals hope to unseat longtime 905 mayors

When Gord Krantz became mayor of Milton in 1980, Zeeshan Hamid was just one year old.

Some 42 years later, Hamid hopes his bid for mayor in the next election will finally end the country’s longest running streak of mayors.

“Our mayor has been here for a long time. He has an incredible heritage, has done an incredible job for Milton and is like a mentor to me,” said Hamid, a regional councilor in Milton for 12 years, who gave up his seat to run for the town’s top job.

« But the question now is what kind of leader do we need for the future? »

Across the GTA, several races where incumbent mayors may have won in the past are turning into contests to watch in the Oct. 24 election as multiple challengers — in some cases the incumbents themselves — show up. for the highest position in their community. Candidates who appear to have the most promising chances of succeeding in what they see as a ‘David vs. Goliath’ race are pushing for change, saying their growing cities need leadership with a new vision after decades of the same old age.

But beating popular incumbents is no easy task — and especially in places where voter apathy is high and election day turnout is low. According to a recent Canadian study, being an incumbent increases the probability of re-election by 41%.

Even without the stats, Hamid said he was aware of the « uphill battle » he faced. In 2018, Krantz won 81% of the vote.

« It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of one-on-one conversations, » Hamid said. “It’s about convincing people that Milton can be better. They just have to vote for it. »

Krantz said much of his popularity came from the way he ran the city: fiscally responsible and keeping taxes low.

“Do you think people come to Milton because they like the way I look? No, it’s not that,” he said. « They are here because they like their lifestyle here. »

In Markham, it’s a two-man race with Mayor Frank Scarpitti facing a challenge from Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton.

« Our team is very optimistic, » Hamilton said. “It’s David versus Goliath. It’s been around for a long time, but I can tell you…every event I’ve been to, people say it’s time for a change.

Scarpitti, who served as mayor for 16 years, won in 2018 with 75% of the vote. Hamilton, who ran for regional councilor in 2018, won the most votes for the job, giving him the role of deputy mayor.

« I think the current mayor has been too autocratic – it’s like a one-man show, » Hamilton said. « And I believe the public wants more transparency. »

Hamilton said the mayor’s opposition to a lobbyist registry was one of his motivations for running for the city’s top job.

Hamilton said he is running on his 13-year record as ward councilor and regional councillor.

Scarpitti said his record as mayor over the past 16 years speaks for itself.

« I don’t worry about my opponents, » he said. « My relationship, my duty and my responsibility are to the people of Markham. »

Scarpitti said he « makes sure the people of Markham know what I’ve done, the approach I’ve taken and most importantly the results – just judge me on the results ».

Julia Hanna said she was confronting Oakville Mayor Rob Burton again because she felt people in the community "are not heard."

In Oakville, local restaurateur Julia Hanna faces off against 16-year veteran Mayor Rob Burton once again. In 2018, Burton won 49% of the vote, while Hanna came close with 42% of the vote. Jack Kukolic, 19, also races in Oakville.

Hanna said she was back for this election because she felt like people in the community « were not being heard. »

She said the city was no longer affordable for many homeowners and businesses, and a number of housing projects had not moved forward despite the housing crisis.

Burton said residents appreciate the years of experience he brings to the table, especially on how to make the city more livable while increasing housing supply, as required by the province.

Competitive municipal races are good for politics and democracy, according to Jack Lucas, professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

« We want elections that are competitive enough to spur real accountability from elected officials, » Lucas said. “That’s what a good high-level challenger does. Whether they win or lose, they’re telling people that’s what your rep did, and you have to think about whether that’s something you support or not.

« It’s good for democracy when incumbents know their actions in office are being watched. »

Lucas, who has studied incumbent advantage, said that in local municipal politics, the results are often skewed by who is currently in office because it is difficult for voters to provide a voting choice during a election without a political party. This is especially true when media attention to board decisions is limited.

That same lack of information leads to fewer people willing to show up for a seat in the first place, he added.

Despite their popularity, the three incumbent mayors said even with a perceived advantage and decades of name recognition, they weren’t taking the electoral race for granted.

« I’m there all the time, » Krantz said. “Whether it’s for a ribbon cutting or to attend someone’s 100th birthday, it’s part of the campaign and part of the community. That’s what people really appreciate.

He expects that with Hamid in the running – in addition to two other candidates for mayor of Milton – it will be a good contest.

« I’m taking on a good challenge, » he said. « As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough go. »

Hamid said his campaign seems to be resonating with voters: he has already met and exceeded his fundraising goals.

He said as one of the fastest growing communities in the GTHA, with a median age of 34, Milton still needs to catch up and have better advocacy at the table when it comes. aims to improve municipal services.

« A lot of our structures and policies reflect a community of 30,000 versus 140,000, » Hamid said. « Milton’s service standard for any service – public transit, fire services, for literally anything – is really low, so now Milton spends the least amount of money per capita on those- ci throughout the GTHA.

“We desperately need to modernize the community. And to do that, we need a modern mayor.

Krantz, who doesn’t have a personal cell phone or personal email address, said being a modern mayor isn’t about having an active social media presence (which he doesn’t either). more), but to remember why you entered the job in the first place.

« People always know where to find me, » said Krantz, who still posts his personal phone number online. “If someone has a problem or a concern, I’m not hard to find. I will always remember them. And that’s why I think I’ve had reasonable success – I take my responsibility to the public very seriously.

Noor Javed is a Toronto Star reporter who covers city news and covers municipal 905 politics. Follow her on Twitter: @njaved


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