BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A face in the crowd

A reoccurring question these days revolves around Vernon’s mayor, Wayne Lippert.

A reoccurring question these days revolves around Vernon’s mayor, Wayne Lippert.

Specifically, people are wondering if he will be back to car repairs after Nov. 19’s election or if he will win a third term, tying him with another Wayne (McGrath) as the city’s longest-serving mayor in its almost 120-year history.

Speculation is extremely difficult because it’s hard to know how voters will react when they head to the polls or what issues, if any, will motivate them.

But what could work in Lippert’s favour is this year appears to be shaping up to be a repeat of the last two civic elections.

In his first run for mayor in 2005, Lippert is among four individuals on the ballot. Only 592 votes separate him from second place and the difference between first and fourth spot is 968. If there were fewer candidates splitting the vote, Lippert may not have come out on top.

Fast-forward to 2008, and Lippert is up against five other candidates, including a well-known councillor and social advocate and the spokesperson for an attention-grabbing group critical of city hall.

For there to be a half-sack of names on the ballot is unprecedented, and obviously an indication that not all is well in Vernon. There are some questioning the leadership of the last three years.

However, the numbers, once again, work in his favour.

Lippert is returned to office in a squeaker, with just 365 votes separating him and second-place Juliette Cunningham. Had any of the next three candidates not been there, Lippert may have stalled at a one-termer and been sent off to consider his career options.

Lippert admits he was sent a wake-up call.

“I’m happy I won. I wish the margin was larger but I made it,” he says.

“I will have to work harder to make sure those who didn’t vote for me are included.”

Lippert has never faced a one-on-one challenge. With a congested ballot and vote-splitting each time, he was able to prevail while never capturing an overwhelming majority (36.92 per cent in 2008 and 31.59 per cent in 2005).

In comparison, Sean Harvey became the new mayor in 1999 with 60 per cent of the votes in a three-person race. In 2002, Harvey was back with 64 per cent of the votes over one other. Go back to 1996, and the other Wayne (McGrath) won a third term in a lop-sided victory — 83.5 per cent support — over a councillor.

I mentioned earlier that history could be on Lippert’s side this November and that appears to be the case.

Already Rob Sawatzky, a retired physician, has thrown his hat into the ring, and two other individuals have taken out nomination packages although they haven’t announced their intentions yet. That means there could possibly be at least four names on the ballot. Such a scenario could favour Lippert again.

Of course politics are fluid and just because there was a pattern in 2005 and 2008 doesn’t mean it will continue this time around. Lippert has six years under his belt and while there have been some achievements, not everyone is enthusiastic with the direction the city has taken.

Lippert will have to campaign if he wants to earn the title of longest-serving mayor, but the task may be a whole lot easier if he’s a face in the crowd.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star