Ward 1: Running Against Darren Hill

Saskatoon City Councilor Darren HillA couple of years ago Sean Shaw and I talked about doing a podcast about how to defeat each of the 10 city councilors.  That would only be fun if it was an election year so here we are but Shaw is in Victoria tormenting a new city.  So instead of a podcast, I am doing a series of posts on how I would run a campaign against each other the councilors that are running in the next municipal election.

Darren Hill is the three term incumbent running in Ward 1.  He defeated incumbent Donna Birkmaier (2006), Carol Reynolds (2009) and Robin Bellamey (2012).  So far he is uncontested but with Jeb Bush having some extra time on his hands…  There is still a lot of time between now and and the next municipal election.

What I Would Do If I Was Running Against Him:  To channel my inner Karl Rove, I’d go after his strengths which in part is the role Hill plays in representing Saskatoon on the FCM and SUMA and point out that Hill is more likely to be chatting up Neil Patrick Harris on Twitter than attending to the real and serious issues of Ward 1.  I’d point out that Hill abandoned the western half of Ward 1 when he ran under the Michael Ignatieff led Liberals and he’s priming the pump for another run in the future.  Something along the lines of, “He’s not in it for you.”

Would it work?  Probably not because the perfect time and person to do it was last election when Robin Bellamy ran.  Hill had just been clobbered in the federal race and you could have made a compelling case that said, “City Council is not a plan B”.  Instead Bellamy ran on Cosmo and a quiet support of the Mayor (who isn’t popular in Ward 1) and lost handily to Hill.

This time around Hill’s biggest weakness is how poorly he has spent his communications fund.  No newsletters that I have seen, erratic email communication to the Ward, and a much lower visibility this time around.  While he continues to do excellent constituency work, his biggest vulnerability might be, “we only see you around at election time.”

Is that a winning message.  Probably not.  Those that care about municipal politics are probably the kinds of voters that dialogue with Hill and therefore get a response.  In talking to neighbors, they seem to appreciate the work that Hill has done for them when called upon, even if they haven’t always appreciated all of the city decisions.   That is generally the winning formula for city councilors running for re-election.

Where it does start to become a problem for him is an outside candidate runs for Mayor and channels the frustration with the city quo on a bunch of areas and hill as an incumbent gets caught up on that.  All incumbents are vulnerable on rising crime in Saskatoon, transparency and competence of City Hall, and a desire for change as the economic conditions in the city have changed.  Local campaigns don’t have the money to pound home those issues but riding the coat tails of a mayoral campaign that turns to the theme of change, could make Ward 1 interesting.  Even in an interesting campaign, I can’t see Hill going down in defeat. 

The mistake that people make in municipal elections is that  because they see the world in a left/right spectrum, the rest of the world does.  We don’t.  We care about things like roads being cleaned, potholes being fixed, and safe communities, that is where Hill does a good job. 

Chances of Being Defeated: Low.  Expect to see him as your Ward 1 councilor for the next four years but if you disagree with me, feel free to run or leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Disclosure: I endorsed Hill in the last two elections.  Documents obtained in a FOI of City Councilors named me as a Darren Hill crony and it was suggested that I was a part of a Darren Hill slate.  I am still bitter about that.  More than it suggests that I am any civic politician’s crony and if there was a slate of candidates, it would be the Jordon Cooper slate.

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