February 26, 2015 - 2:33 PM
KELOWNA - It was supposed to be the political comeback for two-term mayor Sharon Shepherd. Edged out by Walter Gray in 2011, Shepherd was pushed by many to take another crack at it when Gray announced he would not run again in 2014.
In the minds of her supporters it was supposed to be an easy victory. The race for the mayor's chair, though widely contested with eight mayoral candidates, quickly came down to incumbent councillor Colin Basran against Shepherd, and was just as quickly framed by the media as youth versus experience. Indeed, her campaign slogan was ‘the experience to lead’.
It was supposed to be but it didn’t turn out that way and as Shepherd now says, it just as quickly became apparent that Basran was putting everything he had into it, raising three times the money ($76,000 to her $22,000), outspending Shepherd in every category, erecting a small forest of campaign signs and blitzing local mailboxes with brochures.
“We had people calling us asking us if there are restrictions on signs,” recalls Shepherd, making it seem like there were hardly any of her own signs out there. “They were shocked by the amount of advertising that was happening.”
There were other problems. Shepherd says the very qualities that had taken her through two terms — a low-key concensus builder with lots of experience — were now turned against her, subtly, but effectively.
“They made it sound like I was a grandmother, that I was too old to do the job. I am a grandmother and I’m very proud of it, but I also manage a medical office, I have a degree in pharmacy,” Shepherd says. “They also made it sound like I hadn’t done anything during my terms. We put out a list of my accomplishments, but once the perception is out there, it’s very hard to change it.”
While it may now seem a touch naive, Shepherd admits she thought a transparent campaign run on positives, stressing her experience instead of attacking her opponents, coupled with her ethical stance on developer contributions (she doesn’t accept them) would suffice to put her back in the mayor’s chair.
“Unfortunately money does influence every level of politics and people are influenced by negative campaigning,” Shepherd says. “I thought the campaign would be more about what I had done and that it would be remembered. I see now that was wrong and that being transparent and open wasn’t going to make a difference."
Some will call it sour grapes, but Shepherd thinks there should be reforms around both campaign contributions and how much can be spent in pursuit of public office.
“I personally wish there was some kind of limit on how much you can spend during a campaign,” she says. “I think it would level the playing field. I wonder how potential candididates without the financial means could ever hope to get elected.”
Shepherd reveals just a little of how much the loss hurt her when asked if she will consider another run at public office.
“My daughter said once (this interview) is over, I can say good-bye to it all,” laughs Shepherd. “At this point, I would not consider running again. I’ve got too much going on in my life.”
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015