Chelseaites may be forced to remember how to vote

Don’t choke on your organic toast, Chelseaites, but come this fall’s municipal election, you might actually have… an election.

After a decade of hum-drum voting days where acclamations outnumbered seats with more than one candidate, this year promises to be one to wake up for. So far, at least two groups are organizing campaigns to run candidates in multiple wards and even the mayor’s seat.

Preservation Chelsea President Geoff Bleich said his citizens’ organization has recruited five  candidates – two of whom would consider a run for the mayor’s seat, while the other three are strictly interested in council.

Another group, some of whom are members of Chelsea’s Chamber of Commerce, is also organizing to avoid running against each other, though they are not assembling a full slate. One candidate associated with the group, Chelsea Foundation President Caryl Green, has said she will run in Ward 2 (which is currently occupied by Luce Gilbert), although she hasn’t filed her official papers yet.

Doozy Candle owner Bruce Langer has also met with Green and the two others (who wished to remain unnamed until making a formal announcement). While rumours abound he’ll take a shot at Mayor Jean Perras’ seat, he hasn’t yet made an official decision about running.

To add to the previously unheard-of excitement of Chelsea politics, The Chamber of Commerce has also agreed to sponsor a candidates debate featuring simultaneous translation.

“We’re doing this to educate the members on where the people stand,” said the Chamber’s president, Todd Evans.

He said the Chamber was not supporting any specific candidates and would not vote as a block.

The news of potentially having multiple candidates compete for seats this fall is a change for Chelsea, where the mayor and three councillors were acclaimed in 2005.

“I feel quite confident that we’re going to have a bona fide election this time around,” Langer said.

Bleich is also happy to see a race for spots on council.

“Too often in the past Chelsea councillors and mayors have been acclaimed which does not give a real mandate for anything, so we are hoping that each ward will be contested along with the mayor’s position,” Bleich wrote in an email.

Green and Bleich both see recent events in Chelsea as having galvanized individuals to get involved in municipal politics.

“I think there is some reactive politics in this, and there have been some very contentious issues. Our positions became very entrenched,” Green said. “So hopefully, if there’s a way with a new council to establish a dialogue of moving through our differences, that would be beneficial to the community.”

Bleich formed Preservation Chelsea in response to the Chelsea Creek development, which he considers “clearly offside with what we view as a proper development in Chelsea.”

“I don’t think we’re running on an anti-development ticket,” he said. “Just development that takes more consideration of what already exists here.”

Bleich – who will be running for a council seat in Ward 1 or 2 – said Preservation Chelsea is looking for a mandate “to run a small town in a small manner,” with low-density development and a modest budget for “back-to-basics municipal services.”

Bleich said Preservation Chelsea’s other candidates weren’t yet ready to release their names, but said three of the five are women. He’s confident he’ll get two more candidates to make a full slate of seven prior to the election.

Langer is interested in making Chelsea “more than just a bedroom community” where residents can live, work, shop and do their recreational activities. He talked about creating an Economic Development Officer position within the municipality’s planning department to promote Chelsea as “a good place to do business.”

Evans, who made it clear he is not interested in running for office, expressed similar concerns about the state of Chelsea’s economic development.

“There are all kinds of businesses closing in Chelsea,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy (for businesses) in the past. Maybe that’s not any fault of the municipality but maybe there are things they can do to help.”

Langer called for the review of PAE zoning and the contentious architectural and planning bylaw, as well as a greater emphasis on preserving historical and heritage buildings, such as St. Stephen’s rectory.

Green said the increased competition among candidates doesn’t have to be a negative experience.

“My hope really is that we don’t have a very divisive experience though all this. I hope for constructive dialogue through the electoral process.”