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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Pink Lady’s armour now full of chinks

As part of Shari Decter Hirst’s brilliant election campaign in 2010, she gathered local civic, labour, arts and business leaders for ads in the Sun. 
I wonder how many of those same people would agree to pose with her in 2014 should she run again?

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As part of Shari Decter Hirst’s brilliant election campaign in 2010, she gathered local civic, labour, arts and business leaders for ads in the Sun. I wonder how many of those same people would agree to pose with her in 2014 should she run again? (BRANDON SUN FILE)

"As mayor, I will not shy away from public questioning. I promise that I will open City Hall and the Office of Mayor up to scrutiny by the people of Brandon. 

"I believe in dialogue, NOT monologue." — Shari Decter Hirst, Oct. 22, 2010

 

It’s not that Shari Decter Hirst was so popular; it’s that Dave Burgess was so unpopular toward the end of his reign.

When that above utterance surfaced above the din at a particularly lively community coffee on Wednesday, it stuck with me.

Why did now-Mayor Decter Hirst announce her intentions to seek office a full year before the Oct. 27, 2010, fall election?

And how did she then trample over the incumbent two-term Burgess, whose family has deep business and political roots in this city?

In fact, Probe Research had Burgess in a comfortable lead the week prior to Christmas 2009 in a hypothetical ballot question, which included Decter Hirst and a few other possible candidates.

SDH’s somewhat surprising early declaration set her up as the mayor-in-waiting.

She also had a wide-ranging — yeah, a "big tent" — of local civic, labour, arts and business leaders supporting her from across the political spectrum.

And yes, I also thought it was time for a change. I was in that big pink tent.

For those who don’t know, or have forgotten, SDH’s campaign colours were pink and she seemed to have a wardrobe exclusively in that rosy hue.

A nice psychological contrast from the buttoned-down blue-pinstripe image of the good old boys club around the council table and those who pulled strings behind the scenes.

But I digress.

Council at the time really was stale and had little imagination or vision.

Decter Hirst — at the time chair of Manitoba Public Insurance and a senior fundraiser at Assiniboine Community College — saw an opportunity to implement one of the most strategic sales jobs the Wheat City has ever seen.

Now back to the boardroom full of armchair mayors at the Sun’s weekly coffee.

The debate that day was about the future of Brandon’s Community Sportsplex.

More precisely, the pool at the place.

The Sun has provided readers with information of late about the state of the pool and has expressed our opinion in an editorial that it is time to stop throwing good money after bad.

However, now I take you back to 2009, when mayoral candidate Decter Hirst campaigned on a platform that contained a promise not to close the pool.

Then-mayor Burgess and the council of the day were one short dive away from filling the crumbling pool in and making it a filled house, perhaps for ACC to use in conjunction with its new North Hill campus.

But without offering any hard facts and figures — other than she didn’t trust the numbers presented to council by a bureaucracy, that has since seen a drastic churn in staff — Decter Hirst managed to tug at the heartstrings of Brandonites about the need to save the ’70s-era six-lane 50-metre pool.

Add to that some gobbledygook and bafflegab about pursuing the Canada Summer Games in 2017, a move that could mean the pool could be saved for 30-cent dollars for the city.

(That bid eventually failed. In dramatic and expensive fashion).

And that, combined with some tireless personal door-to-door campaigning for months before the fall election — oddly, Burgess didn’t launch his official campaign until after Labour Day — the SDH sales pitch worked.

The Pink Lady beat the shell-shocked Tory-blue Burgess by almost 1,500 votes.

And then she proceeded to lead a council full of newbies and unchallenged — perhaps unmotivated? — acclaimed veterans around like a lamb.

And she did this with the immediate aid of a former Filmon-era cabinet minister, who was the acclaimed councillor in the central-west Meadows ward.

Jim McCrae — who I once worked for at the Manitoba legislature — last year quit as councillor to become a citizenship judge.

But his legacy of devout fawning over the newly minted mayor in 2010 — mostly before the historic flood of early 2011 that halted politicking in this place for a while — set up the new council to fail.

And fail it has. Miserably.

I have to admit, I was also hoping that Decter Hirst — a Jewish female socialist, a first for Brandon in all three areas — would breathe a breath of fresh air into city hall.

Did we expect some extra social spending? Sure. Did we expect some more attention to downtown development? Sure. Did those who knew Decter Hirst personally expect some histrionics behind closed doors. Hell yes.

But do we want another four years of it?

The fact that nobody has yet publicly announced their intentions to run for mayor — or for council, for that matter — is troubling. I wrote about this predicament late last year.

Now I have every reason to believe we will hear, in the coming days or a couple of weeks the start of the first mayoral candidate’s campaign.

I hope this city gets the chance to really examine the platform and rip into the promises put forth by anyone seeking to be mayor, including the incumbent, should she decide to seek re-election.

I hope none of the councillors are again unchallenged and simply get to keep their jobs because nobody else steps up.

Every politician hopes to find the magic bullet that — like Cupid’s arrow — will leave us voting from our hearts, not our minds.

That rarely results in the best person winning the job.

It just ends up providing fuel to throw on the fire at the Sun’s weekly Wednesday morning community coffees.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 11, 2014

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"As mayor, I will not shy away from public questioning. I promise that I will open City Hall and the Office of Mayor up to scrutiny by the people of Brandon. 

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"As mayor, I will not shy away from public questioning. I promise that I will open City Hall and the Office of Mayor up to scrutiny by the people of Brandon. 

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