Mayor Hugh Hugh O’Reilly makes a clean sweep of the mayor’s race By Bob Barnett "This (being mayor) is something I never envisioned," Hugh O’Reilly says recalling his motivation for first running for council back in 1988. It’s Tuesday morning, less than 72 hours after the three-term councillor has shattered the field in the race to be Whistler’s sixth mayor, collecting more votes than the other five candidates combined. Sitting on a couch in the municipal hall office that will be his after Dec. 2, Hugh O’Reilly — a chimney sweep by trade — is humble but quietly confident as he looks ahead to the tasks facing the next council, and thoughtful as he looks back at how he got into municipal politics. "Basically it was a bunch of us sitting around at dinner one night," he says. "To run for council you have to be either unemployed, self employed or retired. I had my own business so I said I’d do it." He ran in 1988 because no one was taking "the family position," says the former Tapley’s Farm resident. As mayor in 1996 he says he still represents the family position. "There are probably 20 variables people are looking for when they’re choosing a mayor; I had enough of them," he says of his election victory. "For the mayor’s job I think they wanted someone well rounded and versed in the community and issues. And I think the Vancouver voters are looking for the same thing. "The Vancouver people are just Whistler locals who can’t spend as much time here as they would like." O’Reilly came to Whistler in the late ’70s and started a chimney sweeping business. He considers the business an excellent way to meet people once a year, in the fall, which is perfect timing if you’re running for local political office. Married with two sons and soon to be a resident at Nicklaus North (where he is building a new home and tourist accommodation business), he maintains the simple, forthright approach that comes with spending his formative years in Rossland and cleaning chimneys, even as he prepares to assume the position of mayor of the number one mountain resort in North America. O’Reilly’s two main campaign promises were no growth beyond the present plan and not to accept any campaign contribution greater than $50. The latter may prove to be the harder promise to keep. He says he had to void a bunch of cheques he was given that were for more than $50. One man from New York, whom O’Reilly had never met before, gave him six cheques, each for $50. He cashed one, the others are still sitting on his desk and won’t be cashed. As to growth beyond the 52,500 bed unit cap... "We have to stop. We have to prove that (Whistler) is a self-sufficient entity." He says there was a clear signal from the voters: that there are no significant amenities the community is so desperate for that it would consider major rezonings or development rights in order to get them. "There are some loose ends, some tracts of wetland and forest that will be offered to us, and we’ll have to deal with them," he says. "The community has to recognize that this growth (he points to Village North) is out of the control of council, but it will be completed in the next three years or so, then the anxiety will diminish, people will get a chance to use it, to live with it." The 52,500 bed unit ceiling on development is the dominant figure for the next council. "At 52.5 we have to look and say, ‘did we miss anything?’ "Everything we do is with that question in mind. Fifty-two-five isn’t very far (away), that’s where the monitoring program is going to help us. We’ll have four years of tracking trends, at 28,000 bed units, at 32, at 44. "That’s going to be the job for the next two or three councils: whatever we build will it be appropriate for a community of 52.5." Like most candidates for council, he feels a cultural facility is imperative, but it has to be achieved in a way that doesn’t require a major injection of funds or development rights at some time. In fact, throughout the campaign there was virtually no debate over what the issues were, the decisions voters had to make were on how the candidates campaigned and approached the issues. O’Reilly says his campaign was not to stereotype the political process. "Everything I’ve done came back," he says. "I don’t like to get caught up in issues, because the issues change. It’s how you deal with the issues, a balanced approach, being consistent. "I don’t take a political route, I try to be honest." Despite that — a cynic might call it novel — approach, did the margin of victory surprise him? "Oh yeah. "I knew we were doing well, had wide support, but I never thought it was going to be anything like this." He sees some of the new councillors bringing "specific strengths" to the next council, but he doesn’t foresee any problems getting them to work together as a team. O’Reilly is decidedly different from his predecessor, Ted Nebbeling, but suggests appearances don’t tell the whole story. "One criticism of me I heard was I was indecisive. I think people mistake that for being quiet. When I make a decision I stick to it. "If you ask me a question I may not answer it immediately, but I will think about it and decide." From an idea that began around a dinner table more than eight years ago, a vision has formed.