Gracia Kasoki Katahwa wins nail-biter in Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce
Montreal's largest borough flips to Projet Montréal after Lionel Perez had early lead
Gracia Kasoki Katahwa of Projet Montréal went to sleep Sunday night uncertain of her political future.
CBC/Radio-Canada had projected Ensemble Montréal's Lionel Perez to win the mayoral race in Montreal's largest borough, Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce.
But toward the end of the night, things began to shift in favour of Kasoki Katahwa, who gradually chipped away at the lead as the votes were counted.
"This morning, I woke up and was refreshing the page for three or four hours, waiting for that last office to open the ballots," Kasoki Katahwa said Monday afternoon, her smile widening.
She held a news conference in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Park a little more than an hour after the result became official. By about quarter to noon Monday, Kasoki Katahwa had won the borough race by 83 votes. Later in the day, the margin had increased to 177 votes.
Kasoki Katahwa, a first-time political candidate, has worked as a nurse and administrator of the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec, as well as a manager for the western Montreal health board.
Kasoki Katahwa described the moment she told her father she would be entering politics to run for borough mayor.
She explained that before moving to Quebec, she grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and that her family was "of modest means."
There was a long pause from her father on the other end of the line, she said.
"A silence that expressed the long obstacle course that is immigration — the wins, the losses, the resilience and the overwhelming emotion that comes from seeing that your efforts bear fruit," Kasoki Katahwa said.
She said she believes voters voted for her because they felt they could trust her and that she would listen to their concerns and their needs.
'Somebody that cares deeply for all the citizens'
"For more than 10 years, I've been taking care of the people of Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce," Kasoki Katahwa said, explaining that many of her patients as a nurse at the Jewish General Hospital and St. Mary's Hospital were residents of the borough.
"I'm comfortable with people having a different perspective than mine. It's something that I do every day."
Kasoki Katahwa said she hopes that her role as a Black woman leader will inspire others who come from diverse backgrounds to join politics.
Valérie Plante, the leader of Projet Montréal who was re-elected mayor of the city Sunday night, found out about the Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce win at the end of a news conference she had been giving Monday morning.
"We're coming home, NDG-Côte-Des-Neiges!" Plante said after hugging a woman in the crowd who turned out to be a close family friend of Kasoki Katahwa's.
"What great news. Gracia is an amazing person," Plante said. "She's going to be a great, great mayor for this borough that needs so much support, attention, and somebody that cares deeply for all the citizens."
Sue Montgomery, the previous mayor, finished a distant fourth in the borough race.
Montgomery won the 2017 election under the Projet Montréal banner, but was kicked out of the party in January 2020 after harassment allegations against her chief of staff turned into a standoff with Plante.
Montgomery went on to form her own borough-based political party, running her former chief of staff in the Loyola district, but none of her candidates were able to gain the support of voters.
Plante said she wished more could have been accomplished in the borough during her first mandate as mayor, but that the controversies had stalled several projects.
"So, today means that we'll be able to do them," she said.
Three Projet councillors won their seats in the borough: Peter McQueen in his long-time NDG district, Despina Sourias in Loyola and Magda Popeanu in Côte-Des-Neiges.
Ensemble took two of the borough's districts: Sonny Moroz in Snowdon and Stephanie Valenzuela in Darlington.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.