ALBERTA

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel Announces Retirement, Won't Seek Fourth Term

05/21/2013 01:57 EDT | Updated 09/19/2013 06:00 EDT
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EDMONTON - The mayor who stickhandled drawn-out negotiations to bring a new hockey arena to the Alberta capital says he won't seek a fourth term in this fall's municipal elections.

"I'm tired," Edmonton's Stephen Mandel said after announcing his decision Tuesday at the Art Gallery of Alberta, a signature building that went up under his leadership.

"I've always felt that politicians tend to stay too long and I'd always felt that three terms was enough."

Mandel, 67, was accompanied by his wife Lynn, daughter and grandson.

"After 12 years at city hall and nine very, very busy years as mayor I believe it is time to open the door to new leadership," Mandel said.

"It has been a difficult decision. There is always more to do. Edmonton is a big, growing city and city hall must continue to keep pace."

The Alberta capital underwent an extensive change under Mandel with new buildings such as the art gallery and at post-secondary institutions.

There is an extended rapid-transit line to the south side and two other branches are in the works.

It was also under Mandel's watch that the city began shutting down the historic City Centre Airport, long the aviation lifeline to the north. It was a decision that polarized opinion, particularly among rural politicians who relied on the airport for emergency medical care.

There was other controversy.

The city brought some of the biggest names in open wheel motorsport to Edmonton for an annual Indy race, but the event hemorrhaged money and the final bill to taxpayers ran in the millions of dollars.

Much of the mayor's last term has been taken up with plans for a new downtown arena for the National Hockey League Oilers. It was a deal that collapsed and was rebuilt over two years as he fenced with the team and the province over funding.

At times he was heckled in council by those who felt the deal was too lopsided in favour of Oilers owner Daryl Katz, while arena supporters suggested it had to be built to revitalize the downtown core.

Mandel was visibly frustrated when Katz refused to attend a council meeting to explain his demands as the agreement was falling apart.

The mayor was initially expected to announce his intentions at a state-of-the-city address in April, but then said he hadn't made up his mind. Some suggested it was because the arena deal was not settled.

Shortly afterward, he blasted Premier Alison Redford's government for not supporting the project with direct cash.

“The time has come for the provincial government to respect the decisions the city council has made and to support what we’re doing here, and stop with the politics,” he said April 24.

“This is about building our city. We have the bloody right to make those decisions.”

Last week, Mandel and council finally signed off on a deal that will see taxpayers pay for almost all of the $480-million rink and fund all major repairs. In return, the Oilers will pay $6 million a year in lease payments and keep almost all profits.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mandel admitted the work took its toll.

"I found myself in the last little while ... not doing the kind of things, (not) having the ideas that kept my staff moving ahead and different things to do that I did in the last couple of years."

During his speech, he choked up when he acknowledged former premier Ed Stelmach in the audience.

"Sorry Eddie," said Mandel as he composed himself at the podium.

"I am so grateful you are here today because you have been a great mentor and a great friend. In my humble opinion you will go down as the best premier this province ever had or ever will have."

He told reporters that Stelmach fought hard to deliver the funds that cities needed to provide shelter for the homeless and to build infrastructure.

"Ed funded homelessness, housing (and) understood the needs for cities. He was — and is — someone of great vision."

Stelmach told reporters Mandel is a visionary who has always kept his promises.

"He was true to his word. If we shook hands on an agreement, you felt confident that nothing was going to change. And that's a sign of good leadership," said Stelmach.

Mandel deflected a question on whether he would follow Stelmach to the legislature dome.

"How's your appetite for provincial politics?" he was asked.

"My appetite right now is just to get the next four months done (as mayor)," he replied.

On his way out the door, Mandel still let a few barbs fly.

He repeated his earlier criticism of Redford's government for cutting operating budgets for post-secondary institutions by seven per cent in the last budget.

"They (the schools) are vital to our future, and to diminish them or to sell them short is a very, very substantial short-term solution to a long-term problem," said Mandel.

"If we have a financial problem with the province, we should figure it out long term, not short term."

Councillors now are expected to reveal their own intentions in the days ahead. Mandel said he doesn't plan to campaign for any candidate.

But he has already let his thoughts be known on Coun. Kerry Diotte, who announced his bid for the mayoralty last week. Diotte has been a staunch critic of the new arena as being bad for taxpayers while delivering a windfall to the billionaire Katz.

Mandel responded to Diotte's bid by saying the one-term councillor's work was "irrelevant."

"He’s done nothing to contribute to the success of the city,” he said in a TV interview.

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