(Update 7:48 p.m.): Joni Baechler is the (interim) mayor of London.
It’s a job she never sought but Baechler was selected by her peers on council on the third ballot during a verbal vote Tuesday (June 24), beating out Ward 1 Councillor Bud Polhill 8-6.
“I’ve said all along I never set out to be the mayor,” she said. “I’m just not oriented that way. I like to do the work that’s connected directly with people.”
That said, her “feet wanted to dance” when the dust settled.
Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson and Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher put their names forward as well but only received votes from themselves and were eliminated after the first ballot.
The second ballot saw a 7-7 tie between Baechler and Polhill that Usher broke on the third vote by switching to Baechler.
Polhill said afterward he was surprised Usher was the one to “blink” and change his vote, but that he supported Baechler and thought she’d do a good job.
He rose after the selection process and tabled a motion that council express unanimous support for the interim mayor, which passed 13-0.
Baechler’s term as mayor will run June 25 to Nov. 30, 2014. Councillors will decide how to fill her Ward 5 seat at a special meeting Wednesday (June 25).
She replaces former mayor Joe Fontana, who resigned June 19 after convictions on fraud and breach of trust charges a week earlier.
She said she’s humbled and looks forward to bringing some stability to the office and getting things done in the next five months.
“Let’s move controversy off the front page and the good news onto the front page.”
Though thrilled with the result, she said after the meeting her decision to leave public life after this term of council stands whether she likes being mayor or not.
“I’ve been crystal clear about that.”
Baechler said she’s looking forward to some “quieter moments” out of city hall with plans to focus on the city’s economic development priorities. There are only two council meetings left before councillors enter lame duck status ahead of the Oct. 27 election and are hamstrung from making any major decisions.
“Council and the community are looking forward to some good news and getting on with the business of the city of London,” she said. “The community is tired of controversy.”
Baechler said as just one vote among 15 she intends to reach out to her colleagues and build consensus.
“We all have to work together if we’re going to resolve this divide.”
On a personal note, Baechler has been working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as the local coordinator of its Headstart for Young Women program to create a documentary designed to encourage girls to enter politics.
Her ascension gives those leaders of tomorrow one more role model to look up to.
“When young women don’t see women in political positions of influence it’s harder for them to see themselves at the table,” she said. “Now they have an opportunity to see a woman in the top chair and hopefully it’ll bring some young women along.”