Councillor eyes Whitby mayor chair after incumbent announces he won’t seek re-election

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Published May 5, 2022 at 2:12 pm

Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell will not seek re-election this fall closing the book on a nearly 30-year political career. Meanwhile, on the first day to register, Regional Councilor Deidre Newman filed to take his seat at the head of the council table.

Mitchell’s announcement came in an April 11 Council Meeting. “It’s really good to be back in the Council chambers,” Mitchell said, “this is my 28th year on Whitby Council. It’s also my last because I am not running in the election in the fall.”

The North Ward of Whitby first elected Mitchell as their councilor in 1991. The Brooklin native served as the local councillor for three terms until 2003 when he made an unsuccessful bid for a promotion to Regional Council.

After a three year break from politics Mitchell returned in 2006, securing a seat at the Region. He remained in this capacity until 2014, when he announced his intention to run for the Mayor’s chains.

Mitchell and his predecessor, Pat Perkins, often clashed in the chamber. However another showdown in the election was out of the cards after Perkins left the mayoral chair to fill the Whitby-Oshawa seat in federal parliament after the death of Jim Flaherty.

By the time Mitchell swept the election with more than 70 per cent of the vote, he was already acting as mayor, having been appointed on an interim basis. Perkins for her part went on to a brief federal career. She was unseated in the next election less than year after she went to Ottawa.

That same term, in 2016, another Whitby Councillor exited the Chamber to run for another level of government. This time Lorne Coe took his leave to represent the town in Queen’s Park and Rhonda Mulcahy won the by-election to replace him.

In 2018, Mitchell again swept into office for a second term with another 70 per cent of the vote share.

This term would be marked by inter-council strife, with Mitchell later commenting that this council “has been divided from the beginning.” The division reached a fever pitch last fall after Regional Councilor Chris Leahy let an insulting comment about Mulcahy fly during a live council meeting.

Mitchell said nothing about the insult at the time, later claiming not to have heard it. Leahy apologized publicly in the following meeting an filed an integrity complaint against himself.

However, after accepting Leahy’s apology Mulcahy took the offensive. In a blistering speech she took council to task for its divided nature, calling it “insane,” and called out the abuse some on council had thrown at each other such as an unnamed councillor who cornered and berated another in a parking lot.

Mulcahy also launched a broadside against Mitchell himself alleging he had voiced “sexual innuendos about a female member of staff on their knees.” She also outlined an event in 2019 in which she said she was assaulted. “During a public event, while seated at a table I received a shoulder massage and the words to the rest of the table were ‘Stay away from this one, she’s trouble.’”

Mitchell admitted to touching Mulcahy at an event, and making an “inappropriate attempt at a joke” and said he would attend sensitivity training, but did not publicly apologize for either incident.

Later investigation into Leahy’s comment resulted in a recommendation to reprimand the councillor. However, council voted not to take any action against Leahy in after a tie-breaking vote from Mitchell. Leahy was able to vote against his own reprimand.

Council also quashed an Integrity Commissioner request to investigate the allegations against Mitchell.

Both of these motions were put forward by Councillor Deirdre Newman, who later became the first to throw her hat in the ring to take over the mayor’s seat. She remains the only candidate for mayor as of May 5.

Born and raised in Whitby, Newman worked as a lawyer and policy advisor until she entered politics in 2018 to represent the town’s western reaches. Her father Des Newman was Whitby mayor from 1966 to 1975 and a well-known businessman in the aerospace industry.

Following in her father’s footsteps is an important goal for Newman, who “looks forward to continuing her father’s legacy and serving the people of our community with integrity, vision and hard work,” according to her Whitby biography.

Meanwhile Leahy, JoAnne Drumm and Steve Yamada (all of whom supported Newman’s two motions) filed to retain their seats.

Anjali Thorve, an insurance broker, and realtor Victoria Bozinovski have also entered the running for local council seats. Candidates are listed online.

Anyone looking to run for office has until August 19 to file the paperwork ahead of the October 24 election. Voters meanwhile can make sure they’re registered.

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