The race for mayor of the mountain host of the 2010 Games was a hard fought one.
But as the final votes were counted incumbent Ken Melamed pulled ahead of challenger Kristi Wells.
“I am elated and I am relieved,” said Melamed clasping a glass of champagne and his wife’s hand.
“As usual Whistler doesn’t give me an easy ride and I had to prove that I wanted it.
“We need to get our fiscal world under control and manage so that we can put on a fantastic Games. They are our opportunity.
“We have a wonderful community. People are deeply passionate, as I am, about Whistler and they insist on being part of that and we celebrate that here so let us continue to increase involvement. We collaborate for success together and that is what it is about.”
Incumbent councillors Eckhard Zeidler and Ralph Forsyth were also re-elected. They will be joined by newcomers Tom Thomson, Grant Lamont and Chris Quinlan, and former councillor Ted Milner. Milner was previously elected to Whistler councils in 1996 and 1999 before being defeated in 2002.
Councillor Bob Lorriman, the second highest vote getter among councillors in the 2005 election, was not re-elected. (See separate story in “News” for voting tallies.)
Even as he celebrated his success Melamed had this to say of his sparring partner these past few weeks.
“I congratulate Kristi,” he said.
“She has a deep passion and commitment to the community as well.
“She is s a strong campaigner and I hope she does not pull away from the community and continues to be an active contributor.”
Melamed garnered 1,527 votes to Wells’s 1,218. Brian Walker was a distant third in the mayor’s race with 63 votes.
At the root of the win may be a resort-wide feeling that it is better to stay the course with a known leader as the community comes to terms with a global recession, the realities of hosting the world’s largest sporting event — the 2010 Winter Olympics, the constant struggle of finding employees and housing them, and a tight budget burdened with some large capital expenditures.
This was Wells’s second try for the mayor’s seat. She ran in 2005, after 12 years as a councillor, finishing third behind Melamed and former mayor Ted Nebbeling. This year Wells ran on a platform for positive change at a time when some are wondering how the present council will keep the resort successful. She was seen by some as sympathetic to development.
Melamed has long been associated with Whistler’s quest for sustainability and controlled growth.
He was the only councillor who voted against bringing the 2010 Games to town, back in 2002. He wanted to withhold support until the provincial government, which earns up to $1 million a day in revenue from Whistler, came through on a promise to share more of the taxes collected from visitors with Whistler.
Victoria finally granted a new hotel tax deal for Whistler last year.
For now Melamed, who has lived in Whistler for 32 years, said his priorities are steering the community through tough economic times, delivering the best Olympic and Paralympic Games possible, and improving community engagement.
“Everybody in this global downturn has economic concerns,” said Melamed, who still ski patrols each winter.
“Whistler has some particular additional concerns over and above the general decline in tourism: how does a small community like Whistler host the world in 2010, how do we close the gap in loss of revenues and we are in the extremely unique position of having to manage municipal infrastructure and services without growth.”
Despite local accommodation woes grabbing headlines recently Melamed said the hundreds of new units the town is building in the Olympic Athletes’ Village and other developments will go a long way to solving the problem.
And a plan to build temporary housing this winter, the Phoenix Project, has risen from the ashes thanks to a Vancouver developer. Some prefab apartment-style homes may be ready by the end of December.