Decision 2009

Candidates for mayor Ron Ellsworth, Dennis O’Keefe, and Mark Wilson.

So you like the idea of voting in the St. John’s General Election this month?

Well, we contacted each of the candidates and asked them a few questions, we dug up some news stories, we looked at their websites, spoke with some folks…

…and yes, Virginia, it turns out you’ve got options.

Below is a quick round-up. For more coverage throughout September, check us out online at

By Sarah Smellie and Elling Lien


Ron Ellsworth

Dennis O’Keefe

Mark Wilson

You couldn’t ask for a better challenger-incumbent-underdog trio.

Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth’s candidacy was no surprise. He sent out glossy Christmas cards to the entire city, fer chrissake. This is a man who seriously wants to be mayor and, judging by the sheer amount of thought and effort that have obviously gone into his pamphlets and website (and, according to a front page article in the Telegram some months back, his physique and haircut), he’s been gearing up for this race practically since he was born. Go check out the Ellsworth Essentials, his top priorities for the city. There are seventeen of them.That’s a lot of “essentials.”

Ellsworth, who has only been on council for four years, is typically viewed as a guy whose main business is business. But he’s also been helping out organizations like the Community Garden Alliance. He’s also great at first impressions – there’s a post by Ed Hollett at The Sir Robert Bond Papers blog from April 2006 which extols Ellsworth’s talents as a politician. And it’s pretty hard to get a compliment from Mr. Hollett. (See

Ellsworth is of course running against present mayor Dennis “Doc” O’Keefe, who won the byelection after Danny Williams gave Andy Wells the boot. O’Keefe hasn’t been quite as prolific with his campaign propaganda, but he certainly wins the Most Expensive Signs category: ad agency stock, with Doc posed sternly against a sparse, yellow background, the word “Proven” ink-stamped above him.

The signs are fairly representative of O’Keefe’s reign. He’s had a few hiccups—the two-day moratorium on drive-thrus, the mystery election poll he commissioned—but otherwise things have been pretty bland. He’s got the “nice guy” reputation wrapped up, with most people applauding his approachability, his heart, and the calm, civil way in which the post-Andy council meetings are conducted.

That’s already quite a race.

To make it even more interesting, why not throw the lead singer of the Idlers into the race?

Wait. What?

Enter the underdog. Mark Wilson, organic farmer and reggae band front man, really is running for mayor. And not in some half-assed, publicity stunt kinda way. He’s been politicking at community events all over town, he’s even got himself a campaign office and a website at the optimistic URL

Though he hasn’t really laid out a concrete platform anywhere, he’s certainly stirring up fresh interest in municipal politics and has caught many peoples’ attention, which is more that can be said for the other two. He may be able to draw out younger voters and encourage more renegade candidates like himself and Andrew Harvey to run in future races.

So who knows what might happen?


Keith Coombs

Shannie Duff

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the real main event.

In the West end corner, we have four-time Ward 3 councillor and McDonald Drive Jr. High principal Keith “We’ve Got To Look Forward” Coombs. In the East end corner, we have longtime city councillor and former mayor Shannie “Trust, Experience, A Track Record To be Proud Of [and Did I Mention That I Was Given the Order Of Canada?]” Duff.

This September these two stalwarts of St. John’s city politics will be slugging it out to the death … of their political careers.

(Maybe. Possibly.)

Weighing in with one of the flashiest websites in this year’s election ( Coombs is typically the first council member giving the nod to downtown development projects which require a tweaking of the heritage restrictions to fly. Indeed, in one of the videos on his site, he says of downtown development, “we need to be adaptable and flexible… simply saying no cannot be an option.”

On the other hand, Shannie Duff is a founding member of the St. John’s Heritage Foundation. She’s one of the strongest supporters of the heritage regulations on council.

But no matter what side of the heritage fence you’re on, both Coombs and Duff are strong, seasoned politicos, and neither let much stand in their way. It was Coombs who demanded that council hit up the MMSB for cash after the curbside recycling program was delayed. It was Duff who led the battle against the proposal for a ten storey hotel at the corner of Water and Prescott Street this winter. Coombs currently chairs the committee responsible for the Harbour Clean-Up. Some think the downtown core would be a Stavanger Drive-like wasteland if it weren’t for Duff.

It’s anybody’s guess who the winner will be, but one thing is certain: a serious munipolitical tycoon is going down in this match.


Danny Breen

Dave Lee

Art Puddister

East side represent! This area runs up from Quidi Vidi lake, and east of Portugal Cove road. The incumbent here is Art Puddister, who has seemingly come out of his shell a bit since Andy Wells left office.

This January, for example, when some councillors were saying downtown businesses were not doing enough to clear snow and ice from in front of their properties, he said the city was being hypcritical for not doing the same on their properties.


He did, however, recently call Bally Haly golf course “the Bowring Park of the east end.” This could have been an off-handed remark meaning ‘it’d be a shame to plunk a building there,’ but any park you need a membership for isn’t exactly a Bowring Park.

Still though, he’s been generally quiet, and the up-and-comers, Danny Breen and Dave Lee are biting at his heels.

Breen (“Your City, Your Voice”), who said in our questionnaire his top priority is to keep taxation at the lowest possible level, has experience with community organisations, including the national and provincial branches of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, as well as sport, and school organisations. He seems like a practical, no-nonsense guy.

Lee (Time for change… Old problems, new solutions”) is a young entrepreneur who likes to think outside the box. Instead of water meters, on his website he proposes public education and an incentive program to retrofit homes. Instead of more parking areas, he favours a park and ride system.

Again, very tough to say what will happen in this ward. In 2005 Puddister was elected with just over 3000 votes.


Scott Fitzgerald

Frank Galgay

Andrew Harvey

Bill Maddigan

Todd Perrin

If you’re in the downtown area, you’ve got plenty of healthy choices on your ballot. With five candidates running, this is the most contested ward in town.

Frank Galgay was first elected here in 1997, and since then it’s hard to find a person who has a bad thing to say about him (aside from people who say he’s long-winded at council meetings perhaps.) Often in local politics once you get in, you’re in until you quit—especially if you don’t raise too much of a fuss. And since Galgay has been respectful of the opinions of others, and there haven’t been any political flare-ups with his name on them, it seems like he’s a shoo-in.

But you’ve got options!

Scott Fitzgerald is a Senior Programmer Analyst with the provincial government who has been campaigning heavily in the area. “I would pair economic development with downtown development because we can’t have one without the other,” he says in the questionnaire.

Bill Maddigan ran for the NDP once upon a time, and he his top issues include sidewalk snow clearing and providing more opportunities for city youth.

Todd Perrin, owner of a successful downtown bed and breakfast, wants to focus on downtown development, and says heritage restrictions need to be reworked to streamline development. “Significant effort should be put into setting the guidelines and then let developers move forward based on those,” he says.

And out of the blue, Andrew Harvey, who works as an Off-Campus Housing Coordinator for MUN, is a surprise standout for us in this riding. On his questionnaire, increasing public involvement in decision-making was his top priority, and he proposed creating a staff position responsible for developing and supporting community associations, which we promptly filed in our Awesome Idea of The Month folder.

Unfortunately, he has grungy-looking, spraypainted election signs up around town, which may indeed be more environmentally friendly, but do not appeal to everyone, and probably even make him look like a crackpot.

But, again, our crystal ball is broken, so we have no idea what will happen here.


Terry Bennett

Bruce Tilley

Ted Warren

Lionel West

Another good example of the high stakes drama in this election.

Who knew munipolitics could be so exciting?

To set the scene, Ward 4 is a ward without an incumbent. Keith Coombs held this riding before deciding to run for Deputy Mayor this time around, so the sheriff’s left this wild west town, and there are four well qualified candidates vying for the position.

Terry Bennett is a long-time city employee and knows how things work “on the inside”.

Ted Warren, a former journalist who has run for the Greens and NDP, rates his top three priorities as “sustainability, sustainability and sustainability.” He says “We need to make this city a cleaner, greener, more livable place for the people who call this home.”

Bruce Tilley—former General Manager of the St. John’s Board of Trade—actually held this very seat a number of years ago, and stands a good chance of being elected based on name recognition among older voters. He also has a well-financed campaign.

Finally, Lionel West is basically obsessed with St. John’s city council. He has been following city hall so closely for nine years that if you were to throw a random council issue at him, he is likely to have already developed an informed opinion, written a letter to the editor, and appeared on the CBC’s St. John’s Morning Show to talk about it. Up until this election, he’s kept a blog about city council politics for a long time. It’s archived at


Sheilagh Guy-Murphy

Debbie Hanlon

Two high-profile, well-liked women are running for this seat, and it’s going to be close.

Guy-Murphy is a strong, outspoken, and passionate actor and writer who has been involved in the arts community for over fourty years, though she is perhaps most widely known for her volunteer efforts, having recently been awarded a Governor General’s Award for Caring Canadians. Her campaign videos on YouTube are a welcome diversion from the standard “I did this and I’ll do that” snorefests, with Guy-Murphy asking a rapid-fire succession of questions like “Do you care? Do you care about your city?” If she could jump out of the screen and shake you by the shoulders, she would.

Hanlon, the incumbent, boasts an impressive struggling single-mom-to-riches story and is a well-known real estate mogul. According to the company’s website, she’s currently listed as a broker for Hanlon Realty, but she is the founder and president. She has been on a leave of absence from the company since last fall to devote more time to her council work. In addition to being the president of Jesperson Publishing, she is the owner and president of Coldwell Baker Hanlon — they’re the ones with the ubiquitous blue and white For Sale signs. Incidentally, Hanlon’s campaign signs are also blue and white.

Both women are relative rookies. Hanlon ran unsuccessfully against Walter Noel for the St. John’s East Liberal Party nomination in 2008. She’s only been on city council for a year, having won the Ward 4 race in the 2008 byelection to fill Ron Ellsworth’s seat when he took over as Deputy Mayor. Guy-Murphy has run in previous municipal elections but has yet to be elected.

Their campaigns have a real focus on the neighbourhood, with both women tauting safety as a main concern. Even though Hanlon is the real estate baroness, it’s Guy-Murphy who puts promoting development within heritage reason one of her top concerns. Hanlon is shooting for more transparency within city hall and more support for seniors.

Hanlon’s year on council began wide-eyed and earnest, with her fighting for a controversial crosswalk. She even won, and the issue made some decent headlines.

But as the year wore on, Hanlon’s presence on council waned. Depending on the politics of who you’re talking to, this could work for or against her at the polls.


Wally Collins

Perry Howlett

Steve Manuel

David Ryan

Much of this ward was absorbed by the City of St. John’s in 1991, and many people in the area aren’t happy with the level of service, so people who stand up for their area seem to get elected here.

Wally Collins has held this seat since 2005, when he ran a rather close race against Perry Howlett. Now again, Howlett is running against Collins, but at a disadvantage. Collins sat on lots of council committees, and spoke up loudly when he felt his area wasn’t being treated fairly (he spoke out against the recently-approved recreational plan, because much of the money was going to replace facilities in the north, for example.)

Howlett argues, however, that Collins hasn’t been loud enough. On his website his list of priorities for the ward include water and sewer services, preservation of agricultural farm land, and sidewalks in school areas. Howlett worked with the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner, Department of Labour and the Department of Transportation and Works before retiring this year.

Steve Manuel is a newcomer to this contest. He is a Deputy Sheriff with the Department of Justice, and his priorities also include sidewalks, as well as road upgrades and new land development for residential homes.

David Ryan, on the other hand, doesn’t have a website and didn’t respond to any of our e-mails. We don’t know anything about him. Vote for David Ryan!


Each voter gets 4 votes from this pool.

Tom Badcock

A retired air force officer who has written 11 novels and is Executive Director of the (amazing) HUB. He’s outspoken, opinionated, and looks extremely stern in his campaign photo.

Barry Buckle

A fashion designer and college instructor (and nice guy) running a low budget campaign, with an eye on downtown development and upgrading the transit system.

Gerry Colbert

Incumbent Colbert probably doesn’t like us because we gave him an F in last year’s City Council Report Card for missing so many meetings. His attendance record has improved dramatically since, but he didn’t respond to our questionnaire this time either, so we don’t know much about him.

Bernard Davis

This Executive Director and Program Coordinator of The Church Lad’s Brigade has attracted some media attention by pushing a park and ride bus service as part of his platform. He applauds council’s opening up of the budgeting process to the public, and lists infrastructure development and fair taxation as some of his priorities.

Tom Hann

This broadcaster and former radio/TV news anchor and program host is an incumbent. “After forming the Mayor’s Advisory committee on Seniors, I would like our committee to work toward making St. John’s an Age Friendly City as outlined in the recommendations of the World Health Organization,” he writes in his questionnaire. He lists managing growth and taxation reform among his priorities.

Sandy Hickman

Two-time councillor at large, Sandy Hickman is a familiar face around these parts. He’s a marketing specialist in the tourism industry, so he’s pretty focused on improving the city’s public relations, its infrastructure, and developing the downtown in a way that preserves that famous tourist-attracting character. He’s not the most outspoken councillor on hand, but he’s a great supporter of the arts, having chaired a meeting with the theatre community this winter to see if the city could help them out with space issues.

Simon Lono

Charming, intelligent, and very much a politically-savvy beast. He’s eager for change: “The city needs a hard look at the way it does things,” he writes. “A lack of turnover at the council level and the abdication of responsibility by leaving decisions to senior city bureaucrats mean that nothing ever changes. This encourages bad and outdated policies and practices to go on and discourages change.” His priorities include financial accountibility, better services, and “community focus.”

Stephen Nolan

Stephen Nolan is all about The Plan, man. This CONA librarian and author two books about the history of this fine province wants city council to sit down and make a concrete plan for the future already. “I truly love my home, which is St. John’s … I feel that we are changing for the worst,” he wrote in his questionnaire. Without much political experience to speak of and a relatively muted campaign, he’s a long shot, but his heart sure seems to be in the right place.

Sheilagh O’Leary

There are some who look to Sheilagh O’Leary as “the next Shannie Duff.” A successful local artist and veteran social activist, Sheilagh recently spearheaded the formation of the Belvedere neighbourhood Association in the Margaret’s Place area. She’s in it for responsible development, more environmental initiatives and more backbone when it comes to upholding heritage regulations.

Check and see if you’re on the voter’s list. Mail in ballots will be sent to registered voters by September 11. The voting period is Friday, September 11th to Tuesday, September 29th, 2009.

Good luck.


  1. davelane · November 14, 2011

    Deputy Mayor campaign the real fight! nice. Check out Out of the Fog tonight starting 7:30 for match #1

  2. Mayor Mark Wilson Campaign · November 14, 2011

    Mayor Mark Wilson Campaign Par-tay!!!
    116 Duckworth St (old Living Planet)
    Friday, 11-2pm and 4-7pm
    Meet MMW for some and share your ideas with him or in our Speakers’ Corner; Baked goodies and fair-trade coffee and tea; Hula and other fun.

  3. Stephen Nolan Campaign · November 14, 2011

    Stephen Nolan is running a low-budget environmentally friendly campaign for Councillor at Large. Check out his Youtube videos published under STEPNOLAN2009.

    These videos will tell you much more about the candidate and his positions than any campaign sign – and they won’t contribute to waste in our landfill! Stephen wants to see St. John’s grow in a rational way with long-term planning that addresses the need or clean water, proper sewage treatment, equitable and compassionate taxation, and preservation of of unique historic character as the proud capital city of a newly “have” province.

  4. Andrew Harvey · November 14, 2011

    “Unfortunately, he has grungy-looking, spraypainted election signs up around town, which may indeed be more environmentally friendly, but do not appeal to everyone, and probably even make him look like a crackpot.”

    I would rather come off as a crackpot then as a hypocrite who claims to be serious about recycling, while simultaneously uses corrugated plastic to spread my message.

    I am one candidate who lives the message I am trying to spread.
    Maybe if we had of elected people who would have taken recycling seriously say… 12 years ago, we might now have a recycling program in place, instead of a limited program scheduled to start in the Spring.

    This election vote for someone who will be the change you want to see in our city.

  5. Mike S. · November 14, 2011

    Just like to point out a major error in this article and that is the reference to Dennis O’keefe and “the mystery election poll he commissioned”….it was in fact RON ELLSWORTH who did this and initially denied it ….here’s a link to an article on that poll….nothing worse then a politician with something to hide

  6. Elling Lien · November 14, 2011

    It’s not an error.. But there have been a number of mystery polls going around, so maybe we could have been a little more clear. The results of O’Keefe’s poll were in fact kept a mystery.

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