One of the most difficult decisions for most politicians to make is to know when it is time to walk away and do something else.
In a telephone interview with the Advocate, Mayor Andy Letham shared his reasons for announcing he will not seek a third term in 2022, where he thinks council is headed, the pros and cons of a smaller council and what the future holds for him post-politics.
“I decided a while ago not to run (for a third term),” Letham said, “and if other people are thinking about it they can now put their minds to it. I don’t want to be seen as pretending (I am interested in a third term). I can now be as frank as I want to be. Council knew a month ago when I told them in closed session. Two terms was my goal. I like what we have done and where we are going.”
When asked if he was relieved that his retirement decision is now public, Letham said he was comfortable with the decision. “There is honestly a little bit of relief that it is now out there. I have received lots of emails from supporters, and while they are disappointed, they understand. It is a load off my shoulders and I can be myself for the next year and a half.”
Letham was asked if he saw any of the current councillors running for the mayoral position.
“I have no idea. I know who wanted to run in the past, but I am not sure as time marches on if they have the same aspirations today.”
The Advocate asked if he would endorse any candidates in 2022 but Letham said no. “I have tried to stay away from doing this…in council races where I have been asked to support one candidate over the other. I will try to do the same thing in the lead up to 2022.”
Letham was asked to comment on the possibility of an outside candidate winning, and whether council has become too complicated for someone without previous council experience to jump directly into the mayor’s chair.
“It could work,” Letham said, “How well it works depends upon council. With a single-tier municipality the size of ours you have to trust and delegate to staff. You need someone who has patience, is a leader and is strong. You have to be able to convince people and put in the hard work. Running a city is not an easy thing on a good day. The pandemic has elevated all concerns to the next level. You have to learn that there are sometimes issues created that are well beyond your control.”
Letham, who ran twice for mayor and lost before winning in 2016, was asked for his opinion on the ideal number of candidates for a mayoral race, and what can be done to improve voter turnout in municipal elections.
“Four or five serious candidates is a healthy slate,” Letham said. “You will get the gamut from left to right. You want an interesting discussion with many different opinions being heard. I don’t know how to increase voter turnout. We have moved to voting online at home. How much easier can we make it? Yet, numbers go down? People will complain but then don’t vote. The real issue is informed voting. This shouldn’t be a popularity contest based on name recognition. The turnout numbers amongst young voters are brutal. Something needs to be done about that.”
When asked what the next year and a half holds for council, Letham said there are multiple plans that need to be completed. “These master plans are very important to the future of the city. There are a number of big news developments coming and soon to be announced. We need to stay the fiscal course. We didn’t get behind the eight ball with spending like a number of municipalities did during the pandemic. We will have a lot of options once the pandemic is done. Our long range financial plan has been a real key to guiding the city as we move forward.”
A smaller council
Letham was asked to compare the 16-person council, which existed in his first term, to the eight person council he is currently working with.
“We have now had two-and-a-half years with the smaller council,” Letham said. “Both councils worked. Eight is easier to manage than 16, but I miss the variety of comments that came from the bigger council. Nine is a good number for the municipality. The smaller number makes for a much better meeting and great focused discussions. It will take the voters a while to get used to fewer councillors. Folks sometimes expect faster service than they are getting. I don’t know how we did it (reducing the number of councillors). We were lucky that we had good councillors who saw the benefit of it. I was surprised the change passed. Other mayors warned me not to go there.”
When asked what the future holds for him, the mayor said he has “no plan.”
“I just know I don’t want to do this anymore. I have always landed on my feet. It is not the time to retire. I am hoping to return to the private sector.”