Going out on a high note, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts – who was once rated as more popular than Christy Clark for the leadership of the B.C. Liberal party – announced Saturday that she won’t run for a fourth term this fall.
“As in every book, there comes a time to turn a page and to end a chapter. I feel I have completed this chapter in my life and it’s time to pass the torch,” said the mayor, as she spoke as a huge celebration for the opening of Surrey’s new $97-million city hall.
That new city hall, standing next to a new library and a proposed new commercial office and condo tower, was part of a vision she drove to transform this suburb of 500,000 into something more urban, complete with a downtown.
As she stood in front of four red-coated Mounties and spoke to a crowd of several thousand on the plaza in front of the new hall, she emphasized that “a vision that comes to fruition allows us to feel we are part of something greater than ourselves.”
The mayor has been hugely popular with residents of her municipality, which has transformed its image as a somewhat redneck bedroom suburb to a multicultural, green-focused, and economically vibrant city under her rule.
Although there has been some criticism in recent months of her handling of Surrey’s spike in crime and of the cost of the new hall, she has largely received glowing reviews from residents of her municipality and from political journalists in the province.
Ms. Watts, who was first elected as mayor in 2005 after having served as a councillor since 1996, refused to say whether she will run federally, as has been widely rumoured.
Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, who represents South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, recently announced he won’t be running again.
But Ms. Watts said she will decide later what the next chapter will be and what fits with her life.
Ms. Watts’ two children, 19 and 20, are now in university and she separated from her husband, which reduces many of the family responsibilities she’d had during her near-decade as mayor.
The mayor also said she won’t commit to supporting anyone yet who is running to replace her.
In 2005, Ms. Watts, then a councillor, broke away from the party that had run Surrey for the previous decade and ran as an independent against the incumbent.
She won and, after some initial tussling with other members of that party, persuaded them – along with more left-leaning councillors – to join her in a new party called Surrey First.
With no nomination meetings and no real membership, the party that Ms. Watts had crafted gradually took over the whole council.
Two councillors from Surrey First, Linda Hepner and Bruce Hayne, have both been out testing support for a possible run for the mayoralty.
As well, another councillor left Surrey First two weeks ago, saying that the party had lost its way and too much business was being run out of the mayor’s office.
That councillor, Barinder Rasode, had said she was strongly considering running for the mayoralty job as well.
As Ms. Watts made her brief statement about her decision not to seek re-election, a wave of “awws” rose up from the crowd, which had also gathered for the city’s annual “party for the planet” on Earth Day.
For David Chu, it was a disappointment.
Mr. Chu lives in a condo near city hall in the new downtown-to-be (still a long way from complete) – a concept that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
“Surrey has been progressing under her leadership,” he said, as he milled around with others at the festivities in the city-hall lobby. “It’s too bad. She has been doing very well in terms of creating infrastructure.”