Penticton voters cast their ballots in favour of change, but a split vote meant Mayor Dan Ashton retained his seat.
The incumbent breathed a sigh of relief Saturday as the final advance polls results were read at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, which gave him enough of a margin to pull ahead of challenger Julius Bloomfield by 146 votes and keep his position at the helm of City Hall.
“It was a bit of a heart-stopping moment there until we got to the advance polls,” he said with a chuckle. “It was a squeaker.”
When asked if that was a ringing endorsement of his leadership, Ashton was quick to answer: “absolutely not.”
“When I looked at the numbers coming in, they were very, very close right up with Julius leading into the advance polls. That goes to say that there were some changes being contemplated in the community,” he said. “The polls are saying it, there’s some hesitation there. But we didn’t stop. We continued on with business that had to be done and addressed. There were some contentious issues right at the end of the campaign, right before the election. Do I think that affected it? Absolutely I do.”
Two hot-button issues arrived on council’s doorstep this fall, just as the election campaign trail began heating up. First, council unanimously voted to sell a swath of city land on Eckhardt Avenue to a developer proposing a seven-storey dormitory to service the Okanagan Hockey School and Academy, as well as Okanagan College in future. As some expressed concern about the purchase price, council took another big step days later: taking the tourism, economic development and visitor information centre contract from the Penticton Chamber of Commerce to an unknown, yet-incorporated entity called the Penticton Business Development Group, effective Jan. 1, 2012.
“There were some issues at the end of this campaign, but council said they weren’t going to stop. They were going to continue on and do business as we did. There were a couple of things that were a little bit contentious. People voted, I’m seeing that,” Ashton said.
“Once things have been digested, and understood a little bit better, then I think people will understand council was trying to do its best for the community.”
Ashton’s win is a shift in the political inertia of Penticton’s history: the city has not given an incumbent mayor a second term since 1993 after Jake Kimberley’s re-election campaign. This time around, Ashton received 3,124 votes, while Bloomfield posted 2,978, Katie Robinson had 1,989 and Vic Powell saw 372 ballots cast in his name. Jukka Laurio, whose name was on the ballot but effectively ceased campaigning after his criminal record was revealed, received 22 votes.
Bloomfield said he took a bit of comfort knowing it was the tightest mayoral race the city has seen in many years, but added he was “obviously disappointed” by the result.
“I’m going to be second-guessing myself for the next couple of days. There’s going to be all those question marks as to what I could have done differently to get an extra couple of hundred votes. But at the end of the day, it was such a close run thing,” he said, musing about whether Penticton voters split their vote. “Katie, she took 23 per cent of the vote.
“Dan didn’t get a ringing endorsement, so that’s a message to this council that they’ve got to change their ways. They’ve got to do things differently. I certainly hope they get that message.”
Bloomfield said he would return to the realty business, and might contemplate another run in 2014. “Maybe. No promises, but maybe.”
In the interim, Bloomfield said he hopes the new face of Penticton council will embrace concepts like sustainable energy raised during the campaign. “There’s a couple of new people on council that will hopefully make sure that message is heard and we’ll see over the next three years if they hear that message.”
Katie Robinson said disappointment has given way to confusion, as the anger she heard in the community did not translate into a vastly different council.
“Aside from Mike Pearce, everybody is back in place where as if nothing has happened,” she said. “It’s more of a puzzle than a disappointment.”
As for the top job, she recognized Monday that three was a crowd.
“In terms of the mayor’s race, it’s pretty obvious that Julius and I split the vote. That had been a concern even before the election,” Robinson said, adding she’s going to take a step back before deciding her next move. “It wasn’t an easy campaign for anybody.
“If nothing else maybe we all have learned something. I wish them all the best with the deliberations for the budget.”