Main challenger to Sarnia's long-standing Mike Bradley may have 'real shot'

With less than a month before voting day, does mayoral candidate Anne Marie Gillis have enough to thwart Mike Bradley, who has been in his seat for 30 years?

Anne Marie Gillis is a city councillor who is going up against Bradley for the second time

Incumbent mayor Mike Bradley has limited access to city hall after council voted to separate him from city staff following allegations of harassment and bullying. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

For 30 years, no one has been able to beat out Mike Bradley for the mayor's job in Sarnia. However, this may be the year he could be unseated.

Bradley has three competitors, including Anne Marie Gillis.

"I think it's more of an advantage, because I'm bringing something different to the table," said Anne Marie Gillis, a councillor who has served for over a decade. . She has previously run for mayor against Bradley in 2000, but was defeated.

Outgoing councillor Mike Kelch, who has been in office for over two decades, thinks Gillis may have "a real shot" this time around.

Even though Bradley has people who would stick with him "through thick and thin," Kelch said Gillis has had the time to build her own base of supporters as well.

"I take a look at her, she's more of a collaborator, more of a networker. And probably sees herself as an equal with councillors as opposed to Mike Bradley's more command and control, more top-down kind of thinking," he said.

"It's a different style for sure."

There are two other challengers to Bradley, Kip Cuthbert and Fred Ingham.

Anne Marie Gillis is a registered nurse who has been a city councillor for Sarnia for 15 years. (Colin Côté-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

Turbulent council term

What may make a real difference this municipal election are the allegations of bullying and harassment made against Bradley by city staff two years ago.

A third-party consultant has reported that Bradley created a "poisoned" work environment for city staff, and the solution council settled on was to build a special wing in city hall to separate staff from the mayor.

Over the years, Gillis has been critical of the way Bradley has behaved as mayor.

And Bradley said those issues happened years ago and he's "moved on."

"Mistakes were made, lessons were learned," said Bradley.

Kelch won't speculate if the city hall troubles are enough to sway Sarnia voters, but he said this time there may be people who are interested in voting for a mayor who will do the best job, rather than voting on loyalty.

Bradley has been mayor since the 80s and defeated Gillis in the 2000 race. (Colin Côté-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

Name recognition

One of Gillis's challenges is the incumbent benefit, which "is especially strong at the local level," said Joseph Lyons, assistant professor for the local government program at Western University.

He said the main voters are homeowners who are most concerned about whether they are getting the services they need based on how much taxes they've paid, said Lyons.

And if that doesn't change, they won't change their vote typically.

In this case, however, Gillis has name recognition just like the incumbent.

"She's a real alternative to the mayor," said Lyons, and "It's not always the case that there is that option available to people during municipal elections."

Kip Cuthbert says he wants to help the city progress forward from the past four years. (Kip Cuthbert for Sarnia City Mayor/Facebook)

Vision for the city

Name recognition is something Cuthbert doesn't have to the same degree as Bradley and Gillis. However, he believes "you've got to start somewhere."

What Sarnia needs, according to Cuthbert, is a focus on tourism initiatives to transform the city into more than just a "retirement town."

"I think we can be an all-ages town," he said. "That means we want to provide things that are fun for people to come and enjoy in the city."

Tourism is also on Gillis's platform, along with improving parks and sidewalks in the city and repairing roads.

Bradley said he's focused on dealing with the opioid and housing issues in the community, along with addressing the city deficit.

"I'm not running against an opponent," he said. "I'm running on the record of 30 years of service to this community and what I want to do for the next four years."

CBC News made numerous attempts to reach Ingham, but received no response.

The municipal election is on Oct. 22.