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Mandel remains undecided on whether he’ll seek fourth term as Edmonton mayor

Mayor Stephen Mandel makes his state-of-the-city speech in Edmonton Alberta, April 2, 2013.

JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

Josh Wingrove Edmonton Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel remains undecided on whether he'll seek re-election, saying the recent provincial budget poses new challenges to the city.

Mr. Mandel had planned on announcing if he'd run again at his annual state-of-the-city speech, hosted Tuesday by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Speculation had swirled – particularly among those eyeing his job – about whether, at age 67, he'd seek another term.

In the end, he opted to keep them guessing.

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"As much as I pride myself on giving clear direction, I do not have an answer today," he told the crowd, drawing some laughter and brief applause. Mr. Mandel explained "key issues affecting the state of our city are genuinely unsettled in my mind. So I cannot, in good conscience, tell you what my intentions are today."

He launched into a critique of many of the issues facing Edmonton – criticizing, in particular, cuts to postsecondary funding outlined in the budget tabled last month by Premier Alison Redford's government.

The changes "fail to understand the role that strong leadership should play," Mr. Mandel said. "No budget woes, no matter how significant, can justify this."

Short-term thinking about the post-secondary sector is "not real leadership ... Because real leadership needs bigger goals."

After his speech, he told reporters he was closer to a decision before the budget.

"I think there's some work to be done, and belief there's no emergency to make any decisions. I think Edmonton's far more important than me," he said.

Councillors Karen Leibovici, Don Iveson and Amarjeet Sohi all are considering bids, but each said after the speech they wouldn't run against Mr. Mandel, should he decide to seek another term.

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Mr. Mandel was something of a surprise winner of the 2004 mayor's race, defeating incumbent Bill Smith, a prominent former councillor.

Since then, his legacy has been largely one of infrastructure, with the city spending heavily to accommodate its fast-growing population. Some of those projects, however, remain unfinished, including a downtown arena project that's still $100-million short of funding and new light-rail transit lines that haven't yet opened. Edmonton plans to turn its nearly defunct city-centre airport into a massive, high-density sustainable housing project, but shovels aren't expected to be in the ground until next year, after the next election. And the city continues to battle surrounding municipalities over paying what Mr. Mandel calls their "fair share." It is, as such, a long list of new or persistent challenges facing the mayor with an election only six months away.

Mr. Mandel urged others to jump into the campaign without waiting for him, but some potential candidates will bide their time.

"Oh no, I wouldn't run against him. I'm quite happy with his leadership," Ms. Leibovici said.

Mr. Sohi said council still has work to do before the fall election, regardless of any campaigning. "I think the election's far away ... I haven't made up my mind yet," on whether to seek the mayor's office should Mr. Mandel step down, Mr. Sohi said.

The deferral should put a cap on jockeying for positioning, Mr. Iveson said.

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"If he needs more time to think it over in light of some of the huge issues we're grappling with as a city, I don't think that should frustrate any of us," Mr. Iveson said.

Councillor Dave Loken, who plans to run again in his ward but not for mayor, called the speech "vintage Mandel."

"I'm happy to hear he's going to stay around long enough to see some of these things through," Mr. Loken said. "And whether that is past [the fall election] or not, I don't know. Who knows at this point?"

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