WINDSOR STAR: Jarvis: New era or the beginning of the campaign?

Paul Synnott files application for a review of campaign finances of candidate Gabriel Maggio with Chuck Scarpelli at City Clerk's office Thursday June 25, 2015. (NICK BRANCACCIO/The Windsor Star) Paul Synnott files application for a review of campaign finances of candidate Gabriel Maggio with Chuck Scarpelli at City Clerk's office Thursday June 25, 2015. (NICK BRANCACCIO/The Windsor Star)

Jarvis: Is this a new era — or an election campaign? Projects ignored in previous city budgets now getting funds. It’s an election year.

Anne Jarvis, Windsor StarANNE JARVIS, WINDSOR STAR
Published on: January 24, 2018

Two years ago, Windsor International Film Festival executive director Vincent Georgie asked the city to waive its ticket surcharge, which totalled $8,000.

Mayor Drew Dilkens called it a “slippery slope.” Council refused.

This year, Dilkens suggested giving the festival $250,000 for equipment. Council agreed.

Two years ago, the Downtown Windsor Farmers Market asked the city to waive $3,000 in rent for Charles Clark Square.

“A slippery slope,” Dilkens repeated. Council refused.

This year, council approved $75,000 for an electrical box for the market.

Council has finally agreed to offer bulk garbage pickup and spend more money fixing alleys, $1.1 million in 2022 to pave them and an additional $250,000 for other improvements like lights.

Is this a new era — or an election campaign?

Dilkens called Georgie in November. He wanted to know more about the festival. They met for an hour and a half. He was surprised that the festival pays $75,000 a year to rent equipment, that it doesn’t have an office so it stores equipment in Georgie’s garage, that it’s the second-biggest volunteer film festival in Canada, affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival.

Dilkens says he has seen the festival grow in attendance and respect. He wants WIFF to be the biggest volunteer film festival in the country, he told Georgie. He wanted the city to do something meaningful to help, and he had a $22-million enhanced capital budget, more than double previous years. 

“It was important to him because of the economic impact downtown,” Georgie said. And, he said, it’s a “badge of honour to Windsor. This is something that’s a signature thing to our city.

“I think it’s an effort to go in a different direction,” he said. “It’s not the same playbook.”

For eight years, including Dilkens’ first year as mayor, the goal was freezing taxes.

Now, “I’m very interested in community development,” he said, citing council’s 20-year plan.  

Long seen as following former mayor Eddie Francis’ agenda, Dilkens’ vision is slowly emerging — highlighting the city’s distinctive neighbourhoods, building on its history and beautifying it with public art. He began a $2-million arts endowment, led the move to spend $750,000 to restore a century-old streetcar and supported converting the 96-year-old Sandwich fire station into a library despite the ballooning cost. He visited Peche Island in 2016 for the first time since he was a kid.

“I couldn’t believe how beautiful it is,” he said.

Council approved $1 million this year to restore the island and ferry people over to it.

“There’s an acknowledgement, for sure, that we need to continue investing in services.”

“I’d like to think the Amazon bid was a bit of a wake-up call,” he said. “Here was one of the largest employers in North America saying these are the things that are important to us. People have been saying this for years, but when someone dangles millions of dollars in front of you, maybe you listen.”

Rose City Politics host Paul Synnott

The mayor and council have been listening, said Coun. Bill Marra, who criticized Dilkens in the past.

“The community has been very vocal when they’ve been supportive and when they’ve been upset,” Marra said. “It has resonated.” 

The public hammered Dilkens and council for refusing to help WIFF in 2016. 

“I definitely think the mayor and council heard this,” said Georgie. 

They heard the outcry from mountain bike riders when the city dismantled a track they created off the Ganatchio Trail in November. Council just approved $500,000 for a mountain bike park in 2023.

Dilkens deserves credit for the investments, said Synnott and Daniel Ableser, who ran in Ward 1 in the last election. But Ableser also credits councillors like Rino Bortolin and Chris Holt, who fought long and hard for measures like alleys, for “working the referee” until Dilkens moved.

And this is an election budget.

“I see this as a smart tactical move going into the next election to outflank critics,” said Synnott.

The film festival and cleaning up alleys will be popular points for Dilkens and councillors who support him in the campaign, agreed Ableser. And they’ll neutralize opponents and criticism.

“I’d say the budget was more of a hedge than turning over a new leaf,” he said.

Two years ago, the wards of the councillors who vote with the mayor most often got all of the $6.1 million for special projects in the enhanced capital budget. The wards of other councillors got none. Dilkens was hammered for that, too.

This year, the wards of the councillors who lost out got millions of dollars. The only difference is there was more money this year so more projects could be funded, Dilkens said.

“I … think … he is trying to take away that as an election issue,” Ableser said.

And if his supporters on council aren’t re-elected, it will be harder for the others to oppose him after receiving millions of dollars for their wards.

Read the original article on TheWayBackMachine HERE because it is no longer available on The Windsor Star