Matt Whitman announces run for mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality
HALIFAX, N.S. —
Matt Whitman confirmed “Halifax’s worst-kept secret” at noon Wednesday in front of city hall.
“I am here today to formally announce my candidacy for mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality in 2020,” Whitman, 49, said in front of about three dozen people as the overhead skies threatened to rain on his Grand Parade proclamation.
“My love for this great city, coupled with my determination to do right by you, its citizens, will make me an excellent mayor,” said Whitman, promising to bring passion, energy and focus to the mayor’s chair.
Mayor Mike Savage, who won mayoral races in 2016 and 2012 by 33,000 and 41,000 votes, respectively, said Wednesday that he has not decided if he will reoffer next time around.
“What I would say is don’t count me out,” Savage said. “I see some people are suggesting that I’ve decided not to. That’s not the case. I don’t have anything else lined up. I was elected to be mayor for four years, not to be mayor for two and a half or three years and to campaign for the rest. I am giving it thought and I know that there are people who want to know what I am doing because they may run themselves, some very good candidates, and I owe it to them to let them know. Early in the new year, if not before, I expect I’ll let people know what I intend to do.”
Savage, who will turn 60 before the Oct. 17, 2020, vote, said he is not as young as he used to be but he loves being mayor, the pace of the job and the people involved.
“I don’t want mayor to be my last career, I want to do something after mayor, whether that’s now or whether that’s five years, I haven’t really decided. If it were a two-year term, I’m pretty sure that I would say, sign me up, I want to go campaign. I need to make sure that my heart and soul would be in it for a full four-year term because I know how much the job takes. It’s a demanding job in terms of the schedule and the thought that’s required. That’s part of the excitement of it.”
That is the excitement that Whitman hopes to channel.
“I don’t see it as a risk, I see it as a reward,” Whitman said of giving up the electoral district of Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets that he first won in 2012 by a slim 400 votes over then-incumbent Peter Lund and reclaimed in 2016 by 1,500 votes over runner-up Pamela Lovelace.
“I’ve done the job well for eight years. Fresh blood in District 13 will be great, fresh blood in the mayor’s chair at city hall will also be great. It’s all upside for me and for Halifax and for Halifax residents.”
The youngest of four brothers who grew up in the shadow of the Dingle Tower, Whitman went on to Queen Elizabeth High and graduated from Saint Mary’s University in 1992 with a geography degree. He had a two-decade career in finance and information technology before moving into politics.
His political career has been fraught with controversy and includes a pair of 2017 apologies. One apology stemmed from a video he posted of himself and a passenger sitting in a car and yelling “Chinese fire drill” before the pair got out of the car, ran around it and switched seats. Many thought the video racist. The other apology was for a Twitter fight with fellow councillor Shawn Cleary and his use of the word “negro” on television. Whitman has also blocked residents, media and colleagues on social media from time to time.
“I don’t think when people are looking at moving their head office to Halifax that they are concerned about someone who ran around their car at a stop sign with their son,” Whitman said. “It’s not an issue. What they want to see is someone who is passionate, focused on Halifax, focused on sustainable growth, looking after our next generation and making sure that this is the best place in Canada to live.”
He said most people he blocked on social media have been reconnected.
Whitman said transparency at city hall, managing the municipality’s unprecedented growth and finding a way to move forward with the province on better affordable housing options are things he will focus on.
Whitman said his entire campaign, which can’t officially kick off until March 1 with the beginning of the donation period, will be entirely digital with no street signage.
Whitman is the only councillor thus far to throw his hat into the mayoral ring and a quick email survey of serving councillors confirmed that 11 -- David Hendsbee, Bill Karsten, Lorelei Nicoll, Sam Austin, Tony Mancini, Lindell Smith, Shawn Cleary, Russell Walker, Lisa Blackburn, Paul Russell and Tim Outhit -- will not seek the top job in 2020. Steve Streatch and Richard Zurawski did not reply Wednesday and Steve Adams is removing himself from municipal politics. Waye Mason said it is too early to talk about running for mayor and added he would not oppose Savage if he reoffers.
Whitman said he counts Savage as a friend and he is prepared for some degree of awkwardness should he and the mayor face off for the top job while working together at city hall.
Savage said he is confident in council’s ability to continue to work well together.
“One of the things that I’m proud of is that there were people who felt that council was quite dysfunctional before 2012 and it’s operated pretty well since then and I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we disagree without being disagreeable and to put the municipality front and centre in the decisions we make,” Savage said.