Prior to the municipal election, a front page story ran in the local media accusing then-Mayor Gagner of stonewalling a $70 million investment from South Korea. In attempt to appear as a hero, Mayor-elect Hope went to South Korea the day after winning the election "at his own expense" (or at least not funded by taxpayers) to bring back investment. He promised a full report to the public, but wanted to wait until after Christmas so he would have everyone's "undivided attention."
Subsequent research indicates the article may have been planted in the media simply to affect the outcome of the election, which it no doubt did. There has been no follow-up by the media outlet which printed the story, no news from Hope himself, and no $70 million investment. It appears the new mayor was just waiting for everyone to forget. Council will learn about the recent trip to Germany by councillor Sulman, but Hope's Korean trip remains a secret.
Inside information obtained by the Maple City Star revealed that the press release from Korea which led to the front page story that scuppered Mayor Gagner's re-election attempt actually originated from a local fax machine on November 3, and the media subsequently sat on it until just days before the election when its release would cause maximum damage. Gagner held a press conference which refuted the claims and exposed it as a hoax, which was boycotted by the same media outlet who claimed they "weren't invited" to news . It was speculated that the story, which local media failed to investigate to verify its authenticity (despite having a week's time), was aimed at retribution against Gagner for a failed bribery and blackmail attempt on municipal officials during a previous trip to Korea.
Since Hope failed to brief himself on previous municipal trips to Korea, including some of the protocols and business tactics unique to other cultures before rushing off, there is a serious concern that similar attempts were made with him. Local residents need to know the exact details about that trip, what happened in South Korea, and how the trip happened to be planned before the election and before Korea was even mentioned in the media, plus who really paid for it.
Despite this apparent hoodwinking of local voters, Mayor Hope continues to enjoy an unprecedented media honeymoon. Hope has been portrayed as a hands-on hardworking Mayor who is putting his years of political experience to use by cleaning up years of inaction by his predecessors. However, such reports are often lacking in specifics, and Hope is unable to detail what he is doing now that wasn't done before.
The media has failed to mention that Hope had no prior municipal experience, and hadn't even attended a council session prior to being sworn in. He hasn't been politically involved at any other level either since his decisive defeat as MPP in 1995. Local media has done their best to present Mayor Hope as the long-awaited salvation of Chatham-Kent, without requiring him to demonstrate any original ideas or actions.
It remains unclear what kind of favours Hope is returning to Mary Lee, the mayoral candidate that dropped out and endorsed Hope for mayor in an unprecedented and questionable deal. Mary Lee recently published a letter to the editor of a local rag that criticized Mayor Hope for not proceeding with a forensic municipal audit, and scrapping other spending that she didn't like. This is the first public display of discontent with the new mayor and council from the group that worked so hard to change the political landscape during the last election.
With budget talks coming up, we will know shorty exactly how the recent election changed the political landscape.