Looking as relaxed as she has in years, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts sat in the meditation room of her Cloverdale home and said what many predicted, but none have been able to confirm until now.
“I’m not running for mayor this fall,” Watts told The Leader in an exclusive interview Thursday.
She was planning to make the formal announcement today (Saturday), at the grand opening of the new city hall.
Her reason for leaving is simple, she says.
From the time she was elected mayor in 2005, Watts says she has made it clear she would serve no longer than three terms. She is coming to the end of that self-imposed time limit.
As to where she’ll be going next, she insists she’s unsure.
“I don’t know what’s around the corner,” she says. “It’s just a new chapter. I find that settling.”
The room she sits in was once a home office where she burned the midnight oil on civic business.
It’s now been stripped of the desk; the only piece of furniture remaining is a large meditation chair. Buddha statues line the shelves and the walls are home to Tibetan mandalas and quotes from Einstein and Zen Master Tich Nhat Hanh.
Watts says several political opportunities lie before her, but she’s not ready to jump at any of them.
Right now, she has plans to travel with her children and scratch at least one item off her bucket list – swimming with great white sharks in the Sea of Cortez.
Watts was elected as Surrey councillor in 1996, then ousted former mayor Doug McCallum for the centre chair in 2005.
In all, she’s served 18 years on Surrey council.
Asked about the high point of her term in office, Watts said it would probably be the work putting together a social infrastructure in the city that didn’t exist before.
That includes drug and alcohol treatment centres, mental health facilities and a child advocacy centre.
She says she, her colleagues and city staff have done a lot to bring the city forward in the last nine years.
“There’s been a collective vision, an ability to move beyond petty politics, and we’ve taken the city from a residential suburb to the second metropolitan core in the region.”
She notes that has been done not by thinking outside the box, “we did it without a box.”
Whoever takes the mayoral position in the general civic election on Nov. 15 will still have some work to do, Watts says.
Moving into the future as one of the country’s fastest-growing cities has inherent challenges, she says, not the least of which are transportation, building on the city’s infrastructure and expanding on innovation.
The person who leads that charge is going to need some special abilities.
“You need someone at the helm that will be a very strong leader that can bring people together.”
So who among Surrey First – Watt’s 2005 creation of a coalition of independents – will get the slate’s nod to move forward?
Watts said she’s staying out of that decision.
Her replacement on the slate will be chosen by all elected members of Surrey First, but Watts says she’s absenting herself from the vote.
As president of the slate, she says she will be at the table, and will help to get the chosen person elected.
But that will be done as a back-room supporter, not as part of a public campaign.
Speculation has it that Coun. Linda Hepner is getting the nod from Surrey First, but Hepner was tight-lipped about it on Thursday.
“I told you, you will be the first to know,” Hepner said.
Coun. Barinder Rasode, who left Surrey First earlier this month, told The Leader she would run for mayor if Watts was stepping aside.
Rasode said Saturday, this day is about honouring the mayor.
“Today is about recognizing Mayor Dianne Watts and all the excellent work she’s done,” Rasode said. As to when she’ll make her plans public, she would only say “there willl come a time very soon to have that conversation.”
Couns. Bruce Hayne and Tom Gill also said they would consider running for mayor if the seat is vacant.
Coun. Judy Villeneuve said she hasn’t given it any thought.And Coun. Mary Martin said that she would absolutely not consider a mayoral run, saying she’s focusing on running with Surrey First as a councillor.
As for Watts, she’s going to stay out of the sticky end of politics this fall, and focus on being mayor for the next seven months.
She has mixed emotions about leaving municipal government.
“It feels like the close of a chapter,” she says, “but in the same respect, I will miss it.”
Watts departure leaves three vacant seats
News that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts will not be running for civic office this fall leaves several empty seats to fill at Surrey City Hall.
For the first time in years, there will be empty seats, at least three of them.
Former Coun. Marvin Hunt stepped down from his council position this year after he was elected as Liberal MLA for Surrey-Panorama.
His council seat is empty.
With Watts deciding not to run, one of the Surrey First councillors, widely believed to be Coun. Linda Hepner, will vacate their council seat for the mayoral run.
In addition, Coun. Barinder Rasode, who just jumped from the Surrey First slate, will be running for mayor, leaving her council seat vacant.
So there will be three new faces on Surrey council.
Or will there?
This city is abuzz with rumours former Mayor Doug McCallum is planning a return to city council.
He told The Leader he wasn’t interested, but members of the community have since told this newpaper he is working for support.
With no mayoral incumbent, could he win that position? Or is he satisfied with a run for city councillor?
There’s also a widely held belief that former Coun. Judy Higginbotham might return to the civic scene. She’s got good name
recognition and might do well in the polls.
The abiding question is, does she have an appetite for the mayor’s chair? And could she win it?
No matter how it shakes out, this is going to be one of the most exciting elections Surrey has seen in decades.
Stay tuned to www.surreyleader.com. We will be bringing you up to date coverage as it becomes available.
More on this at Kevin Diakiw’s blog: www.postdeadline.com