Signs of a tough battle for the mayor

Either way, this week marks an ending for Lisa Helps.

Thursday night, she chairs the last council meeting of her current term as mayor, and if another candidate prevails on Oct. 20, likely her last meeting as an elected official.

Earlier this week, The Record roamed through sections of Fairfield and Gonzales to check for support for Mayor Helps in the ongoing sign battle sprouting on streets and highways across the region.

We picked these areas, because in simple terms, Helps won the mayoralty in the 2014 election in these two neighbourhoods.

In 2014, her strongest polling location was Sir James Douglas School, in the heart of Fairfield, where she topped then Mayor Dean Fortin by 260 votes and took 44.46% of all ballots.

Her next best polls in the city were Margaret Jenkins School in Gonzales and the Cook St. Village Activity Centre, where she enjoyed a combined lead over Fortin of 270 votes.

These are big numbers compared with her city-wide lead of just 89 votes over Fortin and 37.63% of the total, compared with Fortin’s 37.27%. There were eight other candidates in that race, but it came down to a Helps/Fortin photo finish, with the rest of the pack well behind.

Things can change drastically between elections–for one thing Helps is the sitting mayor this time, not a challenger trying to unseat the incumbent. Past results are not reliable predictors of the future, but other signs, particularly those that people plant on their lawns, seem to show a melting of support for Helps in the two key neighbourhoods.

To get a snapshot of the sign war, two Record staffers, contributing editor John Farquharson and myself, biked through areas of Fairfield and Gonzales, looking for familiar purple and white Lisa Helps signs.

We pedaled through south Fairfield between Dallas and May, Moss and Cook; the quadrant bounded by Fairfield Road, Moss, Richardson and St. Charles; and the northeast corner of Gonzales–Richardson, Foul Bay, Oak Bay and Richmond.

We found a total of 11 Helps signs clearly on private property in the roughly 80 blocks, short and long. We only counted signs on people’s lawns, balconies, fences or in their windows. Signs on boulevards are often planted by the campaign, but signs on the property where people live as tenants or homeowners show public support from voters, and almost certainly, votes.

This minimal display of public enthusiasm in key areas is one indication of an uphill climb for the mayor. This seems to be in sharp contrast with 2014, when Helps signs sprouted in abundance in these areas.

Some lawn signs are missing due to ongoing theft and vandalism, said Wesley MacInnis, Helps’s communications director. But in other neighbourhoods, the larger than life Voting Helps signs, erected with wooden stakes, are located on private property, with the permission of the owner.

McInnis says the Helps team of volunteers worked harder than the other campaigns in 2014 and that will make the difference again this time again.

In the final weeks of the election, the mayor will have time off to rally support, as council is breaking beginning this Thursday, Oct. 4 until the inauguration of the new group on Nov. 1. This is the second time they’ve downed tools for the election; they were off for a month in August and September. Yes, voting helps, but so does incumbency.

Lately, the mayor has been telling aides she will not seek office at other levels after she leaves city hall, dispelling rumors she intends to run for the federal Liberals.

So if she falls short in the election, this week’s council meeting could be her last in office.

But before anyone counts her out: could she win again with just 38% of the vote? Of course. And if her three top opponents, Stephen Hammond, Mike Geoghegan and Bruce McGuigan keep attacking each other and split the vote, she could come out on top with much less.