The race for the mayor’s seat in Dawson City was over before it began — only one candidate lined up at the starting gate.
Artist John Steins was named mayor by acclamation when nominations for the June 15 election closed on Thursday.
The contest for the four council seats will be more competitive — there are 13 candidates jockeying for a seat at the table.
It has been more than two years since Dawsonites elected a municipal council.
The last elected mayor and council were removed by the territorial government in April 2004 when a series of capital project overruns left the town badly in debt.
Diana Andrew, Guy Chan, Ashley Doiron, Percy Henry, Ed Kormendy, Torben Larsen, Adam Morrison, Frank Narozny, James Roberts, Helmut Schoener, Byrun Shandler, Cam Sinclair and Gary Wilson will run for council seats.
Narozny has run for mayor in several elections, and Chan ran for mayor in 2003. Shandler is the only member of the deposed council to offer for re-election.
While Steins accepted handshakes and words of congratulation at a Dawson watering hole, he’s “not 100-per-cent happy” about winning by virtue of being the only mayoral nominee, he said in an interview.
“I don’t think it’s the best way to elect people because it precludes debate and discussion and I think that’s really important.”
Essentially, the electorate has allowed one person to be a mayor without really knowing that person’s platform or what he stands for, said Steins.
But he’s pleased so many people have come forward to run for council.
Steins, 56, a founding member of the Dawson City Arts Society, had planned to campaign on a platform of consensus building.
“I’m not in favour of old-style politics. I’m not in favour of a mayor, for example, saying ‘my way or the highway’ and just going ahead with his own agenda. What I’m interested in is getting consensus from the community and somehow involving the community.”
Steins hopes to solicit input partly through town hall meetings focused on specific issues.
The top priority for a new council is planning a sewage treatment plant, said Steins.
He questions the proposal to build a sewage lagoon in Callison, which would store human waste on the aquifer that supplies the town’s drinking water.
It’s not sexy or exciting, but it’s a requirement Dawson must fulfill, said Steins.
“I think the exciting part to that could be that it will be challenging to find a solution along with the council and administration and citizens, trying to find something that’s really feasible, workable and makes sense.”
The next biggest challenge will be to build cash reserves, but the $3.4-million-debt-relief package from the territory will make that possible, he said.
“Luckily we got the relief package, which resulted in reducing our yearly payments from half a million to $90,000,” said Steins.
“So that means we have a leg to stand on and we can start building financial reserves.”
Despite the political turmoil of the last few years, Dawson City is a forward-looking community by nature, Steins said.
“Dawson, besides being one of the most unique places of its size in the world, has a sense of unfulfilled potential. You arrive here and you feel a sense of unfulfilled potential, that something’s going to happen. Even in the face of adversity, you can’t help but feel that there’s cause for optimism somewhere in the future.”
He pointed to the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture’s new art school as one example of the bright lights ahead.
“Things like that will propel us in the right direction,” said Steins. “I think it would be a horrible mistake for a mayor and council to be looking backwards. I refuse to look backwards, like that Bob Dylan song, Don’t Look Back.”
When pressed on personality traits that would help him in the role of mayor, Steins said he is reliable, to the point of being anally retentive, and a good listener.
“It’s hard to be a listener. You really have to stop and give space to the other person,” he said.
“But I think I have the ability to be a listener. And I see that as part of the job, obviously.”
Getting the job was easy but Steins knows it won’t be a “cakewalk”.
He said it will be challenging but a dedicated, caring city staff and a “top-drawer” field of council candidates will provide a good experience.