Henry Braun thought long and hard before announcing his plans to leave council after one term and set his sights on the mayor’s chair. While another four years on council was appealing, he also felt, “I’m not sure we’re heading in the right direction.”
His decision paid off. Braun defeated incumbent mayor Bruce Banman by 577 votes out of a total of 31,765 – or less than two per cent.
Now, with less than two weeks until he assumes his new role on Dec. 1, Braun is meeting with city staff and councillors-elect to begin working towards the direction he sees for the city.
He said Abbotsford has so much going for it, “we just need to pull a lot of loose strings together, and I think people will be pleasantly surprised at the change in the city over the next four years.”
On Saturday night, candidates and supporters gathered at a crowded Matsqui Centennial Auditorium at city hall as the election results came in.
The close race was made more suspenseful by the crash of the city’s website, with the final results stalled and then finally delivered via hard copy. When the results were posted on a screen in the auditorium, Braun’s supporters erupted in cheers. Banman crossed the stage to shake Braun’s hand.
For council, four incumbents were re-elected: Patricia Ross, Les Barkman, Moe Gill and Dave Loewen. The four new councillors are all members of the AbbotsfordFirst slate: Ross Siemens, Brenda Falk, Kelly Chahal and Sandy Blue.
On Monday, the final meeting of the 2011 to 2014 council was held. It was the last official gathering for three faces on council.
Banman later told The News he is going to take some time to spend with his family and think about his options for the future.
Despite his disappointment, he said there was a lot accomplished in his term of which he is proud.
With the race so close, he said it shows there is still division in the community.
He said the city needs to stop looking at the mistakes of the past, as decisions were made by people with the best intentions, and to work towards a vibrant future – the foundation of which was laid out in his term.
“I think it’s time for us to get together and start working on the economy.”
As a grandfather, he said he wants to have a community that is economically sound and vibrant, where young people want to stay and can find good jobs.
He said he loves the city passionately, and hopes people remember that he not only got the job done, but brought a smile to people’s faces.
“This has been the best experience of my life. I have no regrets at all.”
Banman said he found the personal attacks on social media during the election – against all candidates – distasteful. He said the community needs to focus on issues, not people. He hopes in the next election that those on social media think twice about their comments, as they can discourage good people from seeking office.
He said focusing on the issues is more important, saying that Braun is an outstanding community member.
Braun said he was most concerned in the last 48 hours leading up to the election as online comments on social media became nastier. He said he tried to run a clean campaign and while people told him that nice guys don’t win, “I said ‘I’m trying to buck that trend.’ ”
Braun has set out some priorities, including focusing on the issue of homelessness, which he said was a frequent question from the public during his campaign. Braun has maintained he doesn’t think the courts – the city is involved in legal actions with regard to the homeless – is the way to deal with the situation, but he needs more information from the city manager and the city’s legal counsel on the case. But he said being in the midst of legal action makes it difficult for both sides to engage.
He said that many people still have concerns with high property taxes in Abbotsford, especially in low-income households. He said property taxes are higher here than for people living to the west of Abbotsford – a problem that must be addressed.
Braun said that during the campaign was been labelled as “anti-business” and “anti-development” – which does not represent him.
“That’s not the kind of mayor I’m going to be.”
He said the city needs to be more business-friendly than it is now, and that includes removing some hurdles for development and agriculture. But he said the city also has to protect the taxpayers when businesses want to come, so they don’t end up subsidizing commercial enterprises.
The budget and the five-year financial plan are key issues that need to be addressed, with the plan actually followed.
He said the current update of the official community plan (OCP), which will continue into next year, is important and the community needs to get involved in planning what the city should look like in the next 10 or 20 years.
Though there is now a slate on council, Braun said he believes it will be a cohesive group.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the slate versus the other four.”
Councillor-elect Siemens told The News on election night that the AbbotsfordFirst team works together well and it is an open-minded team. He said they will vote their conscience on issues, but have the ability to work together.
He hopes it will be a policy-oriented professional governance style.
“I think we will work well with the new council and the mayor.”
There were 32,259 ballots cast in the election and voter turnout was 37.2 per cent.
There were 30 candidate choices this year, up from 21 three years ago. The additional candidates accounted for nearly 20,000 votes.