Wayne Potoroka wants to be mayor of Dawson City.
“It’s a special place to live and I really truly feel that Dawson has a rosy future,” said the 42-year-old father of two. “I believe that I have the skills and experience to lead a council.”
With four months still to go before the election, Potoroka is the first to declare himself a candidate for the office.
So far, he’s running unopposed.
Incumbent Peter Jenkins announced last month that he won’t seek another term, “unless someone really pisses him off.”
That’s something that Potoroka, who has spent seven of the last 13 years as a municipal councillor and currently sits as the vice-president of the Association of Yukon Communities, has no intention of doing.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Peter these last three years” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from him and I’ve really enjoyed that experience.”
Potoroka has spent almost half his life in Dawson.
A native of Dauphin, Manitoba, Potoroka came straight north from the family farm 19 years ago.
“I remember distinctly riding around the field in a tractor thinking, ‘This is it? This is my life?’” he said.
So when a friend of his came, offering the opportunity to go north, Potoroka jumped at it.
“I told my dad that I was going to go and make some extra money up north and I’d be back in time for harvest, but I never made it back,” he said.
Over the years, Potoroka has worn many hats in Dawson City.
He’s has worked as a landscaper, a construction worker, a miner and a tutor. He’s currently the director of policy and communications for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.
Now he wants to be mayor.
“I can’t tell you enough what an honour it is right now to help set the direction for this town – because you get to work for people that feel as passionately about this place as I do,” he said.
Elections aren’t until October, but Potoroka wanted to get a jump on things.
“I started this campaign really early to give people, and especially community groups, a chance to talk with me about the reasons that I’m running,” he said.
Potoroka wants to improve communication between the town and its residents.
“It’s really hard sometimes to get people engaged when they’re not grinding an axe,” he said. “But we just got to keep trying and just make sure that they know that they have an open line of communication with their elected representatives.”
The mayor’s position is only a part-time gig, so Potoroka won’t have to quit his day job. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of work to do.
Housing is an issue across the territory, and Dawson City is no exception, he said.
“I think that the town has to start implementing the simple things that will allow us to fit more people in this town,” said Potoroka. “Things like garden suites and zoning amendments that would encourage development.”
Making room for new people is important, he said. But retaining people that are already living in town is also vital. And that means replacing the town’s aging community centre.
“It’s quite literally falling apart,” said Potoroka. “That needs to be addressed.
“If we don’t, we will quite literally start to bleed families out of this community to the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse.”
However, just paying for the infrastructure that they already have, like the new secondary sewage plant, is something of a concern for Potoroka.
The town’s dump is also a worry.
“Our landfill is filling up quickly,” he said. “If we don’t change how we operate that facility we’re going to be looking for a new place to rip a hole in the ground, and nobody wants that.”
But while there are challenges, Potoroka is hopeful about Dawson City’s future.
He even thinks that the town has a good shot at getting UNESCO world heritage status.
“There is still a lot of discussion in the community about how that’s going to happen and whether or not it’s something they want, but I think I’d be a good person to facilitate those talks,” said Potoroka. “I love Dawson City.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else and everyone around me feels the same way, and that is really cool when you can say you live in a town like that.”
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