Flewwelling survives strong challenge from Penko

Morris Flewwelling will return as Red Deer’s mayor for the third time after beating a political rookie by more than 1,000 votes on Monday.

Morris Flewwelling and Hillaryn Pinko congratulate each other on a sound campaign.

Morris Flewwelling and Hillaryn Pinko congratulate each other on a sound campaign.

Morris Flewwelling will return as Red Deer’s mayor for the third time after beating a political rookie by more than 1,000 votes on Monday.

Flewwelling, 69, came out on top with 6,892 votes while Red Deer Public Library employee Hilary Penko picked up 5,504 votes. The early poll results showed Penko giving Flewwelling a run for his job, with less than 100 votes between them. As unofficial results streamed in from larger polling stations, it was clear that she would be unable to unseat the veteran municipal leader.

Two hours after Monday’s polls closed, the 35-year-old Penko conceded defeat, strolling over to Flewwelling to congratulate him inside the packed Red Deer Public Library auditorium.

Flewwelling said he understands some voters sent him a message that they were unhappy with his leadership.

“The incumbent always has a good record or a bad one,” he said. “I had a very good record and I felt a discerning public would identify that. But I know that not everyone appreciates the leadership I provided.”

Penko said she took pride in sticking to her message — one that saw her speaking out for more snow clearing and increased municipal budget transparency. She also ran a frugal “green” campaign without any election signs.

Penko decided to run after realizing Flewwelling had a strong chance of being acclaimed on Sept. 20. She declared her intentions on nomination day. As the election campaign continued over the ensuing weeks, the novice candidate said she “got a feeling out there that there were people who wanted change.”

Even so, Penko considered herself a long shot to beat an incumbent and only figured she might get around 1,000 votes. But after Monday’s impressive results, Penko wouldn’t rule out running again in 2013.

“We’ll see,” said Penko, with a wide grin. “I feel very happy with my results.”

Prior to being elected as mayor in 2004 and again in 2007, Flewwelling served as councillor for three consecutive terms. He also served as councillor for one term in the 1970s. He initially committed himself to serve as mayor for six years.

In recent years, Flewwelling, has encountered several challenges on both a personal level and as head of Alberta’s third largest city. In late 2006, he was hospitalized for pneumonia and was on sick leave for nearly two months.

The city engaged in a bitter feud with Red Deer County over land, which was amicably resolved in 2007. After a period of huge commercial and residential growth, the local economy has since weakened, creating a host of financial issues.

During Flewwelling’s last term in office, he and the rest of council largely escaped criticism as they grappled with ways to cut the municipal budget and also keep taxes low.

Flewwelling said he campaigned on quality of life issues, fiscal responsibility, improving environmental initiatives, and active engagement of the public and stakeholders.

With uncertain economic times continuing, Flewwelling expects the upcoming budget will be the toughest he will have to work on. There’s also an optimistic future ahead, Flewwelling said.

“We’ll have action on the Greater Downtown Action Plan,” he said. “What I see is really encouraging with the public and private investment of the downtown.” ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

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