Kelowna’s mayor has made it official—he will not seek re-election in this November’s civic election.
Gray made the announcement late Tuesday, ending months of speculation about his political future.
“As a courtesy to any others who may wish to seek the position, it is important that I make my intentions known at this time,” he said. “However, we still have a lot of work to do in the next eight months and I expect our council team to remain focused on following through on our plans.”
Gray was first elected as a councillor in 1986, serving two two-year terms before stepping away from politics to concentrate on his radio business. He ran for mayor in 1996 and won and was re-elected in 1999 and 2002 before losing the 2005 election to Sharon Shepherd. He did not run in the 2008 mayoral election that Shepherd easily won but ran against her in 2011and won in a a close vote.
Speaking Wednesday, Gray said while he won’t take sides in the upcoming race to replace him, did offer advice to two of his councillors who have publicly indicated they are considering a run for the mayor’s chair.
He said when he met with councillors to tell them of his decision late Tuesday, he told Gail Given and Colin Basran they should not be in any hurry to finalize their decisions. And, he said, he told them he felt only one should run for mayor because he felt it would be a loss for the city one or both of them from council. He did not say which one should run.
Both Given and Basran had said they would not run for mayor if Gray decided to seek re-election.
Seats are expected to open up among the incumbents as veteran councillor Robert Hobson has indicted he is leaning heavily toward not running again. Other councillors have not made up their mid about re-election and one, Luke Stack, had indicated he may run for mayor but has since decided against the move.
In the past, Gray has praised all eight councillors, calling them a “dream team” for the city.
On Wednesday he said they all bought into his vision following the 2011 election and have worked hard over the last 2 1/2 years.
“Everyone bought in, we didn’t have to fight over philosophies,” he said. “We could all just work to get things done.”
Gray said he decision came down to wanting to spend more time with his family.
“I’ve been giving it some through for a long time and I have said before I didn’t want to stay here and die in office,” said the 73-year-old Gray.
A mayor who has been, at times, very popular and at others times very controversial, Gray said the upcoming change to four-year terms from the current three-years for civic politicians in B.C. did not play a part in his decision.
But, he said, it did in the early 1990s when he decided not to run for re-election as a councillor. Back then the terms were changed to three years from two. This time around, he said, he simply feels that the time has come to hand off the responsibility to someone new so he can spend more time with his family. Gray has 12 grandchildren, nine of whom live in Kelowna.
And he said he wants to travel more with wife Doreen.
“We have been to a lot of places but this is a big planet,” said Gray.
But he was also quick to point out there is still work to be done during the remainder of council’s current term.
Over for the next eight months, he said, have plenty on their plate will leave several large projects in place for the next council—projects like the planned Interior Health office building downtown, expansion of the existing library parkade and construction of a new downtown parkade for the IH building and development of a new 24-storey downtown hotel.
When he ran for mayor in 2011 after his six-year hiatus from the job, Gray vowed to “open Kelowna for business.”
He said that has been achieved, even it if it more of a perception than an actual change from what was happened prior to 2011. Still, he feels the city is in better shape than it was 2 1/2 years.
He points to the increased growth at the city’s airport, as an example.
He said other highlights of his time in the mayor’s office—both from 1996 to 2005 and since 2011 include pushing for a second crossing of Okanagan Lake that resulted in the replacement of the aging Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge with the new, wider William R. Bennett Bridge.
One of his regrets is not getting a long-sought sobering station established in the city to help people with drug and alcohol addictions. He said while it has been put on the city’s priority list, it requires support and participation by Interior Health and that has not been forthcoming.
As for the people who may succeed him as mayor, with Given and Basran publicly eying the opportunity, another name constantly mentioned is Shepherd. She said she is considering it but despite being constantly asked if will run again for mayor, has not made a decision.
Another possible contender, Coun. Luke Stack, has ruled himself out of the race for mayor.