For lack of a better word, this year's municipal election was interesting. Around 30 per cent of eligible voters turned out to vote in the Oct. 15 election, 209,727 Calgarians voted for a mayor candidate, almost 90,000 more than the 2004 municipal election--all this despite there being no viable alternative to the incumbent mayor, Dave Bronconnier.
Though Alnoor Kassam brought a well-written campaign and a $1 million of his own money to the table, Kassam lacked the credibility to be an option in the election. Ignoring the $23 million he allegedly took from Kenya when he left the country, Kassam jacked up the rent in an apartment building he owned in the Mount Royal community by nearly 300 per cent earlier this year, in the middle of an affordable housing crunch. Though Kassam backed down, the move was originally to get his mainly low-income residents to move quickly so he could complete renovations to increase the value of the rental units. As well, for his interview with the Gauntlet, Kassam brought two campaign employees, including his campaign manager who passed him a press release when the Gauntlet asked Kassam a question. Though it is politics, it was hard to buy the authenticity of Kassam's campaign.
Behind Kassam, Sandy Jenkins offered good ideas but his campaign went virtually unnoticed because of a lack of funds. Jenkins, who finished third with 16,531 votes, also cast doubt on himself and his campaign by sneaking into and getting kicked out of a Weakerthans' concert at MacEwan Hall. Perhaps his willingness to sneak into a concert for a band he loved, despite the obvious risk of damage to his campaign, spoke more to Jenkin's credibility than anything else. Unlike the top-two, Jenkins seemed real, personable and didn't have a publicist dictating his every move.
The candidate who received an inordinate attention and finished fourth in the polls, Jeremy Zhao, was 19 and was not a real candidate. He had ideas, he brought youth to the table, but electing a 19-year-old to office in a city the size of Calgary would have been a mistake.
Perhaps there were better choices out there than those who finished in the top-four, but unfortunately because of the lack of campaign funding, candidates who weren't 19 and didn't spend a million dollars didn't receive enough attention to make serious challenges. This speaks to the larger issue of inequitable funding and with a system of minimum-levels, similar to the federal elections, or a cap to prevent over-saturation of the top-spending candidates, the candidates who had great ideas but no money might have caught the voters' collective eye.
Ultimately, the virtual inevitability of Bronconnier's victory may have scared away serious candidates and an election where there is no incumbent mayor might offer some real choices. But for this election, while interesting might remain the best adjective, close or democratic would have been preferable.