Fred Connors can walk into a Home Depot in Etobicoke, Ont., and have women go absolutely nuts because he inspired them to a get a new bra.
Not so helpful, perhaps, in Ecum Secum or Oyster Pond – two far-flung communities in the Halifax Regional Municipality the local businessman and celebrity television lifestyle expert hopes to conquer as he seeks to become mayor in the October election.
“I’ve worked in this city my entire adult life,” Mr. Connors said. “I have persevered in spite of all the challenges and all the obstacles. … It’s been a great community to me and a great community for me.”
At first blush, Mr. Connors, 45, is an unlikely candidate: He is an outspoken gay hairstylist and entrepreneur, he keeps chickens and ducks in his backyard – and he’s running for the top job in a button-down city that struggles with new development because of strict height restrictions against blocking views of the harbour from the old British fort.
Amalgamated in 1996, it is sprawling and not cohesive. With a population of only 390,000, it measures 165 kilometres between its eastern and western ends, comprising small rural fishing villages, the urban centres in the Halifax peninsula and Dartmouth, and the bedroom communities of Bedford and Hammonds Plains.
All of this makes it more difficult for an urban businessman to bring his brand to the suburbs and the rural communities. As Mr. Connors said, “it’s not one size fits all.”
“Every single region of HRM has it own heart and centre and we need to find out what is important to them instead of trying to stuff down everybody’s throats that downtown Halifax is the most important part of the HRM,” he said.
Mr. Connors is competing against establishment candidate Mike Savage, the defeated Liberal MP and son of former premier and Dartmouth mayor John Savage. Already, Mr. Savage has name recognition and some heavy-duty backers from provincial and federal politics.
Recent polls show he is way out in front, especially now that Peter Kelly, the mayor for the past 12 years, is not running. Mr. Connors is a distant second.
But if Mr. Connors is worried, he’s not showing it.
“Having had a television career, I think there is a bit of an advantage being on a national network in reruns 20 times a day,” he said, referring to the reality-television makeover show X-Weighted. He was the self-esteem expert, giving give participants tips such as a perfect-fitting bra is integral to dressing for success.
Most recently, he’s the lifestyle expert on CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show.
“My family is four generations of fisher people from Peggy’s Cove, and I grew up in Dartmouth and I’m very fluid – I travel around my community in many different capacities, and when I walk into a room I am extremely recognizable,” Mr. Connors said.
Although a petite 5-foot-7 5’ 7”, he’s a bundle of blonde energy with a lot of presence, a big, loud voice and even bigger ideas for Halifax. He’s also famous for his fight with city hall over keeping his five chickens and two ducks in his backyard, just a couple of blocks from his shop. So far, he is winning.
(The waste from the birds is used to fertilize his vegetable garden; the eggs are used for cooking and baking. People from the community drop by to see the fowl.)
“There’s no question, he’s a very credible candidate,” said Tim Olive, who recently retired as the executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Council. “When I look at somebody, I say: ‘Do they ever have to write a paycheque, have they ever been responsible for ensuring that other people get paid every week and that the business is successful?’
“And he’s there,” said Mr. Olive, who admits that he is supporting Mr. Savage. “So he does have insight that many people that would run for politics would not have.”
Mr. Connors is largely credited with helping revitalize the north end of Halifax – which had been dealing with crime, drugs and the sex trade.