Opinion

COLUMN: Will it be a Coté-Wright matchup in New Westminster?

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Whoa there, young fella. What’s the rush?

That might be the thought running through Mayor Wayne Wright’s mind these days.

It’s still almost five months until the November civic election, and already Jonathan Coté, the councillor who announced his intentions last week, wants his job.

Wright’s been mayor since 2002. This is his fourth term. Notably, in the last election in 2011 he said something along the lines of “Just give me one more term, folks. There’s a couple things I’d like to get done (Pier Park, Anvil Centre). Then, I’ll step aside.”

More recently, before Coté made his official announcement, Wright said his plans depended upon who was in the race. His concern, he said, was leaving the city in ill-suited hands. He wanted to ensure things kept moving in the right (Wright?) direction.

Whatever happens this fall, Coté and Wright are different animals in many ways.

Wright has been New West’s best cheerleader for the last 12 years, pumping its tires all day. When it was down, he cheered. And now that it’s rising, he hasn’t stopped, only now it’s like See? What did I tell you?

He’s got charm, he leads with his heart and he gets things done.

Coté’s a quieter, less ebullient sort. While he lacks Wright’s mega-watt charisma, he inspires confidence with the way he’s diligent, well-studied on the issues, and weighs his words carefully.

Under Wright’s tenure the city has focused on re-shaping New West as a double-edged city: strong on history but progressive and modern in policy (housing, homelessness) and infrastructure (Pier Park, Anvil Centre).

For his part, Coté has his finger on the pulse of progressive cities, having studied some of the best, most innovative things cities are doing, as a city councillor and through his SFU urban studies coursework. If anything, he’d seek to extend on what Wright started.

In that way, it’s hard to imagine a better successor for Wright.

But hey, that’s still almost five months off.

If I were in Wright’s shoes, leaving the mayor’s chair would be the last thing I’d want to do.

Look at the guy—he’s having the time of his life. He may be 70-ish now, but he looks healthy and has an unfailing passion for the city. With the new Pier Park, plans next year to dismantle half the parkade and the recent rezoning of the massive Larco parking lot on the river, his long-term vision for regaining the waterfront is coming together.

And what job could measure up to city building?

No, it’s doubtful he’s ready to leave. But leave he will.

Why announce now, though? What’s the fun in that?

No one wants to be a lame duck. As soon as he says the words, he’ll be treated differently.

“Been a pleasure working with you, sir…”

“It’s July, you insolent whippersnapper! I’m here ’til the swearing in of my successor. That could be December!”

So he’ll keep us guessing.

Meantime, Coté isn’t wasting time. As he did when he first ran for city council in 2005, he’s raising the bar in this city for campaigning. He’s got a splashy website with a promo video, he’s unveiled the planks of his platform, and his volunteers have already been out on the streets.

In 2005, I recall seeing Coté and his supporters out early one morning near the onramp to the Queensborough Bridge waving and holding up Coté signs, which highlighted the “X” for his middle name Xerxes—so easy to remember on election day.

The original Xerxes the Great, incidentally, ruled Persia back around 486 BC or so.

The name means “Ruling over heroes.”

He came to power at the tender age of 36, just a few months older than Coté is now.

By historical accounts, Xerxes took over from his father.

And the transition, so it is written, was a smooth one.

• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

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