Mayor Stephen Mandel announced today that he will not seek a fourth term as mayor. It’s the first time since 1988 that an Edmonton mayor has left the position voluntarily, when Laurence Decore resigned to enter provincial politics.
Had Mandel run again, he would have won. Councillor Diotte was the only person on Council who was willing to run against him, and it is doubtful that another serious challenger would have come forward, let alone had a chance at victory.
The change this year to four year terms likely had an impact on his decision – Mandel would have been into his 70s had he won another term. Three year terms were introduced in 1968, and Mandel has supported the idea of adding another year in the past. "My belief is that a four-year term allows you to be successful," he told the Journal in 2005. "It’s a more substantive time for trying to complete an agenda."
Mandel has also supported the notion of term limits for mayors, noting the demands of the job. "That takes a great deal of energy, and to be creative for a long period of time, there is a simply a limit," he said in 2005. "I mean, how many years can you do it and still be effective?" Like his predecessor Bill Smith, Mandel’s three consecutive terms are more than he or anyone else expected him to serve.
After failing to win a seat on the public school board in 1995, Mandel was elected to City Council by just 33 votes in 2001. Working alongside Karen Leibovici in Ward 1, commentators at the time noted that Mandel learned a lot and matured politically over those three years.
As the 2004 election approached, Mandel found himself deciding to run for mayor. He did not want to serve another term under Bill Smith, who aside from being a cheerleader was often described as a "lone wolf." Mandel also felt that Robert Noce, the other serious contender that year, was not someone he wanted to work with. "We can wait forever for somebody else to do it, but I’m not going to do that. I believe that one of the real problems of our city is that we wait for everybody," he said at the time.
Mandel handily won the election that year, defeating Smith by more than 17,000 votes. "You have no idea how I feel. This is unbelievable," he told supporters after the results had come in. Despite being snowy on election day, turnout was relatively good at 41.8%. In 2007, Mandel earned 66% of the vote, defeating Don Koziak by more than 60,000 votes. It was a clear mandate for Mandel and the big city vision he had brought to Edmonton. Turnout was just a dismal 27% that year, a sign that Edmontonians were happy with the direction Mandel was headed.
In the last election in 2010, Mandel earned 55% of the vote, defeating David Dorward by more than 50,000 votes. Turnout improved slightly from 2007, jumping to 33.4%. It was an important election for Mandel. "This election was about building a positive future for Edmonton," he said in his 2010 swearing-in address. "It embraced long-term thinking and a broad vision of an ambitious Edmonton." Just two new councillors were elected that year, suggesting once again that Edmontonians liked where things were going.
Mandel has accomplished a number of the things he originally set out to achieve. Expansion of the LRT, tackling the problem of homelessness, reducing crime, and raising the profile of the arts, to name just a few. He has always pushed for improved relations with the Province, and for Edmonton to get its fair share of attention and money. On regional issues, Mandel regularly pushed for more cooperation rather than competition, though he was willing to be the bully if he felt it was appropriate.
Mandel wanted Edmonton to be a capital city again, to be a big city. As he said today, “we want our city not just to exist but to thrive.” Under his leadership, it has happened. The feeling of being left behind that Edmontonians felt in 2004 no longer lingers, and any jealousy of Calgary has given way to the realization that the two cities need to work together.
These are not easy challenges to have tackled, and they have certainly demanded a lot of Mandel. He was known to have a temper before becoming mayor, and Edmontonians got a glimpse of that during his first term on Council. While Mandel has learned to control his language in public, he’s been known to passionately express his viewpoint behind closed doors. Occasionally his anger got the better of him, such as when he learned that Edmonton had lost federal support for its bid to host EXPO 2017.
Mandel will certainly be remembered for many of the capital projects he had a hand in, such as the South LRT extension, the closing of the City Centre Airport, and of course the downtown arena, but I think his true legacy is actually a little less tangible.
I have always appreciated Mandel’s view that councillors should be involved in citywide issues, not just ward issues. In his 2007 swearing-in address, Mandel stated: "No matter what community has sent us here, we all share a responsibility to do what’s right for the city as a whole." His approach as mayor was markedly different than Smith’s before him. Mandel often complained of feeling excluded as a councillor under Smith, and that certainly influenced his style. In his remarks today, Mandel again reiterated his view that the mayor “is just one small voice” on Council.
Over his three terms, Mandel has brought an increasing level of sophistication to the City of Edmonton and to the way City Council operates. He showed us what could be achieved by building consensus and working together. He showed us what’s possible when everyone is aligned, both inside and outside of City Hall. That to me is his lasting legacy. He’s changed the way we do things. In Mandel’s Edmonton, we make things happen together.
I’m very grateful that Mandel dedicated over a decade of his life to this city; Edmonton is a better place because of his efforts. I wish him all the best in his next adventure!
Will he retire? If not, what will Mandel do next? Here’s what he told the National Post in 2010:
"I’m not a hobby guy. I like to volunteer when I’m not doing this job, but right now this is busy and I don’t. So I don’t have a hobby, but I wish I did, you know. I wish I was a woodworker. I think when I retire I’m going to try to learn how to cook. I like to cook. I’m not any good at it."
Mandel did hint today that he has been discussing future plans with his family, but said today was not the time to share them.
Mandel’s announcement makes the election this fall much more exciting. Not only does it mean we’ll have a new mayor, but it likely means a large number of new faces on Council. Expect to see a number of campaign announcements over the next month. On that, Mandel shared a few thoughts as well. “I’m excited to know that our citizens will have many diverse options to consider this fall. I want to wish the best of luck to all those who will put their names forward to be Edmonton’s next mayor.”
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