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British Columbia Surrey mayoral candidate surrounds herself with experience in bid for North American first

If victorious, Barinder Rasode would become the first female South Asian mayor in North America.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The woman who hopes to shake up Surrey's political establishment says she needs to start fast and run hard if she wants to become the first female South Asian mayor in North America.

Barinder Rasode has already recruited a seasoned Liberal campaigner as an adviser and set up a space she calls a "hub" for community dialogue.

"It is going to be hard. It will take a coalition," Ms. Rasode acknowledges as she weighs her chances of becoming the mayor of Surrey. Dianne Watts is preparing to leave the stage in November, and the party she created, Surrey First, is getting ready to name its candidate to replace her. It will not be Ms. Rasode, who quit the party in April, saying it had become too closed and unresponsive to people's concerns about crime and excessive spending at city hall.

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Ms. Rasode's coalition so far includes Mark Marissen, an experienced federal and B.C. Liberal campaigner with long-standing ties to the province's Indo-Canadian community (as well as being Premier Christy Clark's ex-husband) and former B.C. New Democratic Party leader Moe Sihota.

Another B.C. Liberal Party close connection, Jatinder Rai, recently named interim head of ICBC, attended Ms. Rasode's community-hub launch, along with about 500 others. To top everything off, Ms. Rasode has hired Ms. Watts's communications' manager of three years, Tara Foslien, for her campaign.

Ms. Rasode's efforts so far have also attracted the support of people like Jack Bailey, the owner of a Surrey tool-making franchise, and community activist Sybil Rowe.

Mr. Bailey said he likes Ms. Rasode's willingness to listen, come out to every community meeting, and tackle anything she thinks is for the good of the city. Ms. Rowe, who thinks the current Surrey council has allowed development to wreck the city's older communities and its trees, said she likes her because she has a lot of "empathy." She will host a community-discussion night this week at the hub on development issues.

One political analyst said Ms. Rasode's campaign will be especially difficult because there are no obvious scandals.

Ms. Watts is leaving on a relative high, and people have the sense that she transformed Surrey from a bedroom suburb that was the butt of jokes into a real city. Ms. Rasode is in the tricky position of wanting to claim her share of the good things that were done, while also suggesting there are serious unaddressed problems to which she has the solutions.

Ms. Watts will probably give a strong endorsement to whichever loyal council member – Linda Hepner is said to be the choice – runs from her party to replace her.

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Still, Surrey politics does not work the same way as in other cities.

"In Surrey, you can never count on anything," said former Surrey councillor and New Democrat MLA Penny Priddy, for whom Ms. Rasode worked as a constituency assistant 25 years ago.

Voters have elected, over the years, more than one mayor who is not part of the team that dominates council, voted right at one political level and left at another, and shown a fondness for new brooms.

A poll done in April also showed that residents are ready for some change, with a significant majority unhappy with the way the city has handled traffic problems, homelessness, and especially crime.

Ms. Rasode is staking out territory as the new broom. "I'm in the exact same spot that Mayor Dianne Watts when she first ran for mayor," she said.

Just as Ms. Rasode did a couple of months ago, Ms. Watts broke away in 2002 from the party she had been with, the one that dominated council (under then-mayor Doug McCallum), to run as an independent for mayor. She was elected handily and, after initial resistance from councillors, created a new party that essentially consisted of herself and councillors she persuaded to be part of her team.

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