With a solid win in Saturday’s election behind him, District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft will become one of the few politicians to head into his 30s with a full decade in municipal politics to his name.
“It’s a strange thing at 29 to have nine years of experience and have gone through four elections,” Taft told The Valley Echo the morning after his mayoral victory over Al Miller.
“But to be totally honest I feel a lot more comfortable in the role now than I did three years ago. It was a big learning curve going from councillor to mayor, and it was really hard to do at 26. It was tough to balance the age and the level of experience and the responsibility.”
Taft, who owns local cafe Gerry’s Gelati in addition to holding down a council seat, returns to the mayor’s chair for a second time with a solid majority of the vote. Preliminary figures from the November 19 election put him ahead of Miller, owner of the Home Hardware and a one-term councillor, by a margin of 717 to 389.
“I think it was being able to point at past successes,” he says, when asked to pinpoint the source of his appeal with district voters.
“There’s a real advantage to being an incumbent and having some of the experience and being able to point at what’s happened in the last three years.”
But Taft admits there were a few moments of worry during the campaign.
“For most of the campaign I felt very confident, very positive. But the last couple of days before the election a lot of people were mentioning how close they thought it was going to be, and so the last couple days I was starting to really wonder and worry,” he says.
Voters opted for the young mayor again — and, Taft notes, also opted for a relatively young council of Spring Hawes, Justin Atterbury, Paul Denchuk and Greg Anderson to back him up (see related story on page A19).
With longtime councillor Bob Campsall retiring and two-term councillor Ray Brydon voted out, it’s also a far less experienced council than that produced by the 2008 election, something Taft says he will miss.
“It’s going to be a big change and a big loss with councillor Campsall retiring. That’s a lot of knowledge and a lot of history. Also with Ray not getting re-elected. Again, he’s served two terms and I know I’ll personally miss working with him.” But, he says he’s looking forward to working with the new council, which will head into its first strategic planning session in mid-December.
“I think overall it’s a really progressive council,” Taft says. “It’s not all green, it’s not all business. It’s a really good mix.”
Once brainstorming begins, Taft says he hopes he can fast-track an economic diversification strategy for the region, which would be done in concert with the Regional District of East Kootenay and possibly involve funding from the Columbia Basin Trust.