Earlier today, Bridget Mearns announced her intention to run to be the next mayor of Lethbridge.
With this announcement, she joins 5 other candidates for the seat: Sheldon Joseph Day Chief, Blaine Hyggen, Gary Klassen, Kolton Menzak, and Stephen Mogdan.
Hyggen and Mearns are two of the candidates I predicted might run, shortly after current mayor, Chris Spearman, announced his retirement earlier this year.
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While Hyggen is an incumbent councillor, which places him as one of the favourites, I anticipate that Mearns will be the front runner.
Both candidates have sat on city council for two terms; however, this is Mearns’ second time running for the mayoral seat, having come in second place to Spearman in 2013, with 30% of the vote and beating out third-place finisher Faron Ellis by 11 percentage points.
As well, when Mearns won her 1st city council election, in 2010, she placed 3rd, showing up on 8,740 ballots, or 35.6% of all ballots cast. Hyggen placed 11th in that election, with 5,867 (23.9%).
In his first winning election, in 2013, Hyggen won only 7th place: 6,229 votes (28.7%). Even though he jumped up to 5th place in the last election, he still placed worse than Mearns did in her 1st election: 7,438 (34.8%).
Plus, when Mearns came back on council during the 2014 byelection, she won with 35.58%, pretty much the same share of the vote as she had in 2010.
That being said, Hyggen has made a name for himself over the last couple of years—especially regarding supervised consumption, conversion therapy, and mandatory mask wearing. He will definitely be the top choice for a lot of people, and name recognition will probably help him among people who can’t be bothered to research candidates and only vote based on familiar-sounding names.
On the other hand, Mearns also has name recognition, as a 2-term councillor and as a mayoral candidate. Plus, her mother was a city councillor for 2 terms and served as Lethbridge–East MLA for 3 terms before retiring in 2015. While MLA, Pastoor served as the seniors and community supports critic for the Alberta Liberals, while they were the official opposition. That could give Mearns an edge among the older demographic.
This is the only time since at least 1998 that 6 people—a new record—have put their name forward for the position. It would’ve been 7 but local business owner Bradley Whalen dropped out earlier this month to endorse Hyggen and run as a council candidate instead.
When Bob Tarleck beat out 4 other candidates to win the 2001 mayoral election, he did so with just shy of 40% of the vote. Mike Pierzchala came in second place with 25%. The two incumbent city councillors who also ran—Greg Weadick and Frank Peta—came in 4th and 5th place, respectively.
Like Mearns, Tarleck had served on city council previously but had taken a break before stepping forward to fill a vacancy. He had served 7 terms, however—unlike Mearns’ 2 terms.
Knud Peterson, a well-known community activist and philanthropist, introduced Mearns at her campaign announcement. During his introduction, he shared the following comments:
Lethbridge’s first mayor was Charles Magrath elected in 1891, since then, we have had 25 different men occupy the mayor’s chair. Now is a very appropriate time to elect our first woman mayor. I have known Bridget for many years through her work in the community. I have always respected her passion, compassion, and drive. I firmly believe that she is the best person to lead our City forward as Mayor and I am thrilled she has officially launched her campaign.”
The possibility of having a woman mayor for the first time could also give Mearns an advantage among some Lethbridge voters. In fact, Mearns is only the third woman to run for the seat.
Ruth Elzinga challenged David Carpenter in 1992, and Cheryl Meheden ran against Rajko Dodic in 2010. And, as I already mentioned, Mearns came in second to Spearman when she ran in 2013.
In a campaign video, Mearns claimed that she what she brings “to the mayor’s chair at the City of Lethbridge is a perspective we’ve not had in our city before, and that’s one of a woman.”
During her announcement, Mearns touched on the the division with in the city in general and city council specifically, division that has helped Hyggen’s recent surge in popularity.
My Lethbridge is not defined by our problems, but rather by our riches in diversity, culture, trails and parks, world class post secondary opportunities, a resilient and supported local economy, and pride in all we are and can be.
She claimed that her vision for Lethbridge was a city ““that works for everyone and builds bridges across the issues that divide us.”
Mearns is currently the executive officer of the Building Industry & Land Development Association of Lethbridge Region. Previous to this, she was the development coordinator with Exhibition Park, and she recently completed her MBA. She also has experience with the Chamber of Commerce.