In a surprise upset, Randy Hope came from the woodwork and narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor of Chatham-Kent. Hope, a factory worker and former NDP MPP who's been out of politics since his sound defeat in 1995, (with only 7,444 votes) wasted no time in flying across the world to Korea to "Open Chatham-Kent up for business." He expects to land a major industry despite failing to acquaint himself with the lengthy Korea file that details past Economic Development efforts and relationships cultivated in Korea.
Some residents expressed suspicion at the timing of an article published by local media indicating that municipal officials had stonewalled a $70 million Korean investment. The company reportedly stated they would only bring the investment if Hope were elected mayor, giving Hope a huge boost in support. This story was successfully refuted by the mayor, but not until after the election and not all local media outlets printed that side of the story. Many question whether the trip, which is not being funded by tax dollars, was part of a setup designed to oust Gagner from power and hurtle a final insult at her.
According to reports, this $70 million investment is actually a garbage incinerator which would burn Toronto garbage. The company claims to have perfected a new environmentally safe method of burning garbage and then using the heat to generate electricity, but an extensive search has provided no information to substantiate any location where this particular technology is in use. There is no known method capable of safely burning garbage, whether it's used to generate electricity or not. One of the conditions this company demanded to do business in Chatham-Kent was to receive $14 million in municipal investment, and assistance in financing the balance, an act that would be illegal in Ontario.
In one of the strangest mayoral campaigns on record, Randy Hope was the first candidate to file his papers for mayor, followed by Richard Erickson, Walter Spence, Councillor Chip Gordon, Jim Desat, Mary Lee, and incumbent mayor Diane Gagner.
In the 2003 mayoral campaign, Erickson placed 4th with 4205 votes, and Mary Lee was 3rd with 4830 votes. Gagner polled 16715 votes, with local entrepreneur Austin Wright placing 2nd with 6028. Wright had decided to run for council in ward 6 this time, and admits he was pressured by Mary Lee and others to refrain from running for mayor, though he insists his decision to run for council had already been made.
"Mary Lee stated emphatically that she would not run for mayor this year," claimed Wright, who further explained that he kept his council ambitions under wraps until September to keep Lee and her backers guessing. "Lee thought in January that Hope would win the election only if the vote could be split the right way," he added.
With only a couple of weeks left in the campaign, in a strange twist of intrigue, Mary Lee withdrew from the race and threw her support behind Hope, citing the inability to continue due to health problems. Suddenly, the media was backing Hope using subtle subliminal messages, such as peppering headlines with "Hope" a statistically improbable number of times, and covering only one part of the issues. Hope's campaign also saw a boost in campaign spending, as his mostly empty ads suddenly began to hold some substance and his speeches found some ideas.
Hope's use of the term, "It isn't rocket science" caused the public to feel a deja-vu as the connection was made with literature distributed by the Chatham-Kent Coalition of Concerned Citizens, a pseudo-group with no official standing linked through rumour to a local businessman.
How Hope intends to lead remains to be seen. With only 31% of the vote, which translates to 14% public support when the low voter turnout is factored in, Hope does not enjoy a large measure of confidence. Every move, including the rushed trip to Korea, will be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. As head of a council made up of members much more experienced than himself in municipal politics, expect to see some following while he learns how Chatham-Kent really works.