Analysis

Yoga teachers, musicians and non-profit organizers: What change at city hall looks like

Before Tuesday, St. John's had an all-male council with one person younger than 35. This time, three are under 35 and half the new council are women.

Tuesday night's election in St. John's was one for the books

Maggie Burton, left, Hope Jamieson, centre, and Deanne Stapleton, right, were all elected to council on Tuesday. None of them have previous council experience. (Gary Locke/CBC)

If you're still staring at the results from Tuesday night's city council election with your jaw in your lap, you're probably not alone. Tuesday night's election was one for the books.

First, voters got rid of one old-school mayor and four incumbents.

Then they replaced them with young people, people you don't normally see at city hall and a record-breaking number of women. 

"Nobody votes for a 28-year-old yoga teacher," said Hope Jamieson, who unseated Jonathan Galgay in Ward 2.

"But then they did."

All's not Wells's

The former council's death knell may have started ringing after the 2015 budget dropped. It included large salary increases for city staff and considerable tax hikes for citizens.

Nobody was allowed to talk about the budget before it came out, either. So when it was released, people were blindsided. 

And from the outside, it looked like a group of businessmen — and they were all men — shut themselves into offices deep within the concrete bunker, and voted to increase salaries at city hall while ratcheting taxes for everyone else.

It was not a good look.

From left, Danny Breen, Renee Sharpe and Andy Wells ran for mayor of St. John's. (CBC)

Sure enough, Andy Wells, mayor of the city from 1997 to 2008 and purveyor of a near-trademark causticity in his rulings, announced he'd be trying to reclaim the throne. The salary and tax increases were his prime beefs.

His rallying cry was that he would restore the city's tax levels to what they were before the bumps.

For anyone looking to vote against the salary and tax changes, and get the say they didn't have before, Wells was an obvious choice.

But he got just 33 per cent of the vote.

Former Ward 1 councillor Danny Breen got 53 per cent, and he even voted for that budget.

Out with the old

In the councillor at large race, long-time council heavyweights Art Puddister, Ron Ellsworth and Tom Hann all lost their seats. 

In 2013, Tom Hann got the most votes in that race - more than both Dave Lane and Sandy Hickman, who were welcomed back. They'll be joined by Debbie Hanlon and Burton. 

Jonathan Galgay wasn't re-elected to Ward 2. He was narrowly beaten by Jamieson.

Hope Jamieson defeated Jonathan Galgay in Ward 2. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

With seven people in that race, there was lots of choice if you wanted to cast an angry ballot against a past council member. But Jamieson and Galgay were the only contenders with significant vote counts. People didn't just vote against Galgay, they voted for Jamieson. 

And in the race for at large, they voted for Burton. 

Musicians, yoga teachers and non-profit organizers

People didn't vote angrily against the previous council. Though they didn't re-elect many of them, save for Lane, Hickman and Wally Collins tucked safely away in Ward 5, they weren't voting just to get rid of them.

They voted for new people, young people and women. People who did things differently and who brought different voices to council.

They voted for Jamieson, a 28-year-old yoga teacher. And Maggie Burton, a 26-year old violin teacher and musician. They voted for Ian Froude, a 31 year old non-profit organizer, and for Jamie Korab, an Olympic curling champion.

Ian Froude, elected to Ward 4, spent a week in April trying to get around without using his vehicle. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Of the five council rookies voted to council Tuesday night — Deanne Stapleton in Ward 1, Jamieson in Ward 2, Froude in Ward 4, Korab in Ward 3, and Burton at large - three are under 35.

Dave Lane, re-elected councillor at large, is 35.

Renee Sharpe, who is 34 and ran for mayor, didn't get elected. But she did get 14 per cent of the vote.

As far as mayoral candidates go, Sharpe's most logical parallel is Mark Wilson, who ran in 2009. Like Sharpe, Wilson presented himself as a young, progressive alternative to the suits and ties on New Gower. He also had Sheilagh O'Leary and Shannie Duff on his side.

Sharpe got more than twice as many votes as he did.

A graphic combining four women candidate's logos was shared around some part of St. John's media in the days before the election. (Facebook)

Five women were elected on Tuesday. Before that, the most we'd ever had at one time was three.

The national average for women on city councils is 28 per cent. We're now at 45 per cent.

A big jump from last election's 0 per cent.

Lifting each other up

The young progressive candidates, especially the women, were clear they were running because they didn't see anyone like themselves on city council: no young people, few people outside the business world, no-one from lower incomes, few women. 

"It's time to have a council that reflects the voices of our entire city, and not just a small subsection of voices," Burton told the CBC in an earlier interview. "If you elect an all-male council, then you're going to represent the needs of men."

Maggie Burton defeated city council veterans Ron Ellsworth, Tom Hann and Art Puddister for a seat in the councillor at large slate. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

They ran with similar values, so they teamed up to reach people who might feel like they do. They supported each other's events and gave each other shout-outs on social media. Sharpe and Jamieson went canvassing together. Sheilagh O'Leary and then Gerry Rogers stepped in to support them. 

Meanwhile, with all due respect, Art Puddister doesn't even have a real Twitter account

A sign of things to come?

Their campaigns also looked different: they had talented young women design their brands.

Burton's rich purple came from Krista Power. Both Sharpe's golden yellow and Jamieson's vivid blue were creations of Krissy Breen.

Some signs really stood out from others. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

While Galgay's dark-coloured pamphlets blandly suggested the city market itself as an oil and gas capital, Jamieson's pamphlet was bright and doubled as a window sign.

It was a unique approach, a change from what we'd come to expect.

Sure, the name Jamieson carries a lot of weight in the province. But the word that really stood out on those signs was her first name: Hope.

That's what people voted for.