SURREY – Surrey residents have spoken and for the second time in a row, they wanted Surrey First.
Linda Hepner and her team swept all the council seats Saturday night, just as the slate did in 2011.
According to the city’s election results, Hepner received 50,782 votes, nearly double that of her nearest opponent. Safe Surrey Coalition’s Doug McCallum and One Surrey’s Barinder Rasode were far behind, with 27,982 and 21,764 respectively. Hepner took roughly 49 per cent of the vote.
Saturday, the city said a total of 101,558 ballots were cast – a 35.3 per cent voter turnout – up from 70,253 in 2011.
Cheers exploded from the crowd of at least 400 at Central City Brew Pub, Surrey First’s campaign headquarters, as Hepner entered the room around 9:30 p.m., escorted to the stage by Surrey fire fighters in a crowd that resembled a moshpit.
Outgoing Mayor Dianne Watts introduced Hepner – her chosen replacement – as she took the stage.
“We did it!” the mayor-elect yelled as she took the podium to the team’s victory song of choice – “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas. “We are not going back. We are going forward.”
She thanked the crowd, adding, “Surrey has spoken loud and clear.”
Hepner took time during her speech to pay respects to Watts.
“We’ve worked hard together, we’ve campaigned together and through it all, we’ve done everything we should to make surrey politics came second and Surrey came first,” she said. “City hall is not going to be the same without her and she is by any measure, one of a kind.
“She has changed the way all of us look and think of our city. And she has changed the way others see us. We are going to have a good time when we’re working together for the city when she is in Ottawa.”
Over at Rasode’s camp, the mood was more sombre.
“The City of Surrey has spoken,” Rasode said after she conceded to Hepner. “But I’m really proud of the fact that we brought the issue of crime to the forefront and that’s what I was hearing from the community associations. I think we brought the issues really relevant to the residents to the table.
Rasode said she will now rejoin the workforce and spend time with her children, and plans to maintain a role in Surrey as a community activist.
Asked about rumours that she might run for office at another level, she said “that’s exactly what those are – rumours. My heart and commitment is to Surrey at the municipal level and I’m pleased to play a role without being elected,” she said.
Former mayor McCallum said he was surprised by the results.
“We didn’t see it coming. In fact, we saw the opposite,” McCallum later told reporters in a scrum at his party’s headquarters.
Saturday’s defeat, he said, was “a real disappointment” but nevertheless, he added, “That’s fair enough, and that’s what they have decided to do tonight, and Surrey will move forward.”
Of 52 polling stations, McCallum topped 11 (W.E. Kinvig Elementary, Tamanwis Secondary, Strawberry Hill Elementary, Simon Cunningham Elementary, Newton Elementary, Kirkbride Elementary, Green Timbers Elementary, Chimney Hill Elementary, Cindrich Elementary, Cougar Creek Elementary and Panorama Ridge Secondary, ) and Rasode, just one (election headquarters).
The race to replace the departing Mayor Dianne Watts was expected to be a close one, with a recent Insights West poll showing the “big three” in a dead heat.
Also seeking the mayor’s chair were independents Grant Rice, Vikram Bajwa, John Wolanski and John Edwards.
All eight Surrey First council candidates – Judy Villeneuve, Tom Gill, Mary Martin, Barbara Steele, Vera LeFranc, Mike Starchuk, Dave Woods and Bruce Hayne – were elected.
Former Surrey First councillor Marvin Hunt was in the crowd Saturday night, and said he wasn’t surprised at all to see his former team take the election.
“I didn’t sense in the community a real problem with Surrey First,” Hunt said. “I felt that the community was feeling confident about what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished…. The results that you see here, are really saying that the direction that Surrey First and Dianne has led us in, they want to see that continue.”
-With files from Christopher Poon and Tom Zytaruk