She may be the best mayor we never had, as some commentators have suggested, but is she the mayor we can keep?
There’s nothing in the decision city council made last week to appoint Joni Baechler mayor of London for the remainder of the council term that precludes her from standing for re-election in the October civic election.
And already there are a lot of people pushing her to do so.
But in a weekend interview Mayor Baechler says there is not a chance she will stand for office this fall. “I’m tired of it,” she says. “Fourteen years is a long time.”
First elected city councillor for what is now Ward 5 in north London in 2000, Mayor Baechler rapidly became the intellectual leader of the progressive wing – a position which often earned the wrath of developers and once the scornful accusation from a previous mayor she was a socialist.
Like her or not, most everyone anywhere near civic politics in London came to respect her work, particularly in the area of how development is financed. Almost singlehandedly among council members, she put lie to the claim development pays for development.
Even pro-development Joe Fontana, at the last council meeting he chaired before his conviction on breach of trust, fraud and forgery charges and his subsequent resignation as mayor, finally agreed taxpayers at large pay a significant portion of the cost of a growing city.
Now as our highest elected leader, if only until Dec. 1, Mayor Baechler presides over a council which leans slightly to the progressive side.
The irony is this was the expected result of the 2010 election. The assumption was Anne Marie DeCicco-Best would again easily beat Mr. Fontana for mayor and Gina Barber and David Winninger would retain council seats. The progressives, for the first time ever, would hold a majority with as many as nine, perhaps 10, of the 15 votes.
Assumptions were wrong. Instead, Mr. Fontana ruled with an 8-7 split in his favour for much of his abbreviated term, often stomping on progressive ideals.
Unfortunately for Mayor Baechler, there’s not a lot of time left in this council’s term to make a difference. Council meets only once between now and Sept. 12 when its powers are somewhat, although not entirely, curtailed by lame duck status.
So what to do?
“We can start to move the city forward on some action items,” she says. This week she’s meeting with City Hall department heads to prepare a list of proposals that could be moved along quickly.
Among them will be Fanshawe College’s request for another $10 million to complete purchase and renovation of the Kingsmill’s department store downtown into more classroom space. The mayor wants council to see the business plan at the same time it goes to staff so it can be approved at the next meeting Sept. 2.
Apart from that, Mayor Baechler says a big part of her job is to restore credibility to the position, to help recharge morale at City Hall and to rebuilt bridges to the university, the development community and regional mayors.
She acknowledges receiving thousands of text messages and emails since her promotion and agrees that, yes, probably, she could win re-election in October. But she’s not running, she says, so stop asking.
Philip McLeod, a longtime London journalist, can be reached at email@example.com.