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The mayor says...

Reflections and perspectives at the end of a difficult year



People been talking smack about the mayor. It may have something to do with the asphalt plant. And the community forest. And the Olympics. And higher taxes. And the waste water treatment facility. And the way the wind bends my neighbour's trees and obstructs my view of the mountains...

Oh, Ken, frequently blamed for the perceived failings of the entire municipality, sometimes for decisions made before he even served on council. That's the politician's fortune, however, and in a small town it can be even worse. People avoid him in the streets, which is awkward given the size of the town. There are only so many hockey rinks and grocery stores a man can visit. There's simply no way to hide from the stare-downs and sideways glances that are now a part of his reality.

He hasn't always handled the criticism gracefully and he's the first to admit that he's defensive.

"To be a good politician, you have to be non-judgmental and not defensive," he says, holding out his fist, opening and closing it like the mouth of a Venus fly trap, only instead of insects it seems to be catching articulated thoughts. "I think those are two very good qualities that I wish I was better at. I think I'm getting less judgmental and I remember on occasion not to be as defensive." He laughs.

He's driving the family Volkswagen Golf from Whistler to downtown Vancouver on a Thursday, for a TV interview with Fanny Kiefer on Shaw's Studio 4. He seems tense, gripping the steering wheel with both hands or gesticulating wildly as he speaks. He doesn't seem like the type of man to relax too easily and the deep wrinkles around his eyes suggest a lot of squinting and brow furrowing. It's no wonder. Given the year he's had with the Olympics, the criticism surrounding the asphalt plant and everything in between, a little pre-interview tension probably seems a remarkably light load to bear.

"It's a smaller town and it's so hyper-critical," he says. "It's sort of that - well, there are a bunch of different euphemisms. 'Life in a fishbowl.' The intense criticism that comes (with this job), you can never do anything right. It's just degrees of wrong. I'm talking politics in general but it's on steroids in Whistler."

That criticism seemed to reach a fever pitch in the weeks leading up to the deeply divisive asphalt plant rezoning bylaw application - the issue that has perhaps scarred Melamed's reputation deeper than any other. At the council question and answer periods leading up to that vote, frustrated community members stood up at the podium to lay their accusations of council misdeeds and municipal secrecy in question form. Melamed was not pleased to be dealing with such accusations. He would clench his jaw. He would rub his brow. Many of the questions were variations of previous questions from other people, and as he took a few deep breaths, it seemed as though this would be the moment, after 15 years in politics, that Ken Melamed would finally flip his lid, run over to the podium and pop the questioner in the nose.

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