Tori SuttonStaff Reporter
Last Friday was the deadline for filing to run in this October's municipal election.
Two dozen candidates will face off for one of 10 council seats, and two candidates - incumbent Dan Mathieson and newcomer Martin Weatherall - are running for the mayor's chair.
Six more candidates for council slid in before the deadline, including Kris LaCourse, Kevin Silver, Lesley Walker-Fitzpatrick, Patti Miller, Martin Ritsma and Nick Giannakopoulos.
Giannakopoulos, a lifelong Stratford resident who served several terms on council in the past, said he understands the social needs of the community and the hurdles it must overcome.
Narrowly defeated in 2003, he decided against running for election in 2006 due to time constraints, after filling in for Sam Dinicol toward the end of the term. Now, the property owner who also dabbles in the food industry, said he's cleared his schedule and is ready to deal with the upcoming issues.
Hot topics include the debt and diversifying the city's economic base, particularly the manufacturing industry.
"Those are some of the most difficult jobs to bring to this community," Giannakopoulos said, adding he'd also like to see the city attract more high-tech and aerospace firms.
While he's a big supporter of the University of Waterloo Stratford campus, he thinks one of the keys to local economic success is through pharmaceutical and health-related industries.
Giannakopoulos was a councillor when the city purchased Festival Hydro and since then, he's been worried that the utility has not been putting enough money back in taxpayers' pockets.
With the cost of electricity on the rise, he thinks owning the utility should translate into more savings for residents.
"I ask myself repeatedly what the benefit of buying it was other than making a profit," he said.
"We the shareholders should reap the benefits of it."
The redevelopment of Market Square and investment in the downtown core are also at the top of his list. The possibility of constructing a new library, police station and swimming pool - possibly in partnership with the university - also has to be investigated, he said.
"We have to be creative and visionary and listen to the people at large," Giannakopoulos said.
"We have to have them come to the table. I think it's very important because we all live here and love this community for what it is.
"It is one of the best communities in Canada by far."
This is the first time Patti Miller has run for council, but the mother of two adult children is no stranger to the city and its politics.
Miller, who worked in the city clerk's office for a time, was one of the homeowners who filed a class action lawsuit against the city after her home was ruined in the 2002 flood.
"I love Stratford and I would love to make some good changes and do my part," she said. "I've always wanted to run but was urged not to while the class action lawsuit was underway.
"Now that it is settled, the door is open. I can help and do some good."
She filed her papers last week, on her late husband Dan's birthday.
"I filed on his birthday in memory of him," she said.
Miller said the state of the local economy is her No. 1 priority, as is housing. She currently lives in the Bard of Avon housing co-operative and is in touch with the challenges so many in the city face.
"There's so many needs for our own people and that's what I'd like to be able to focus on," she said. "We need to be giving them a hand up, not a hand out. People are the bottom line."
Over the years, she's been involved with several local organizations, including Avon Cooperative Nursery School, Rotary Hockey and Phoenix Survivors.
Years ago, when she lived with her family on Franklin Drive, she worked with the Children's Aid Society to transform one of the units into a community centre.
"We had really wonderful programs running," she said.
She has covered municipal council in other areas for newspapers and has experience with procedure.
"It's always been an interest for me and there's a lot of things coming up that need to be addressed," Miller said.
Award-winning business owner Kristina LaCourse believes she's ready take that next step in her community involvement.
The 37-year-old founder of Marley and Me says working with the public she had the opportunity to speak to families from all walks of life and find out what they want and need from the community.
"I've also done a lot of research on what other communities are doing for families and feel I can bring useful knowledge to city council that will positively impact us here in Stratford," she adds.
LaCourse was named Woman of the Year for Women in Business in 2006 for her work with local women through her business. In 2008, she received the Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for Retail Excellence. She has since sold the company.
LaCourse most recently formed a group with concerned citizens who support the building of a free splash pad for Stratford families. The Facebook page dedicated to the cause has collected nearly 1,600 supporters who want to see the splash pad built in 2011.
"I believe in supporting our children, our families and our community," she adds. "Other communities are offering services that are important to families that we don't have in Stratford, and I believe I can bring more focus to these issues as part of city council."
LaCourse believes Stratford needs a curb-side green bin recycling program to reduce household waste.
She also lists helping small business owners, preserving the beauty of the city's downtown, supporting downtown businesses and coming up with a solution to the area behind City Hall as her top priorities if elected.
LaCourse also wants to expand the use of social media so citizens and council can connect and collaborate on important issues. LaCourse has volunteered the past two years with the LINC Parents Fair as its entertainment chair, and as an entertainment reporter for Rogers First Local television.
Kevin Silver is preparing to launch his fourth campaign for city council. Though unsuccessful in the past, Silver is confident his background and experience are a great combination and make him a good fit for a council seat.
Having lived in Stratford for 20 years, Silver has been heavily involved in the community. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Rotary Club of Stratford, the Stratford Symphony Orchestra and is a member of the committee of adjustment. In the past, he's served on committees tackling tourism, heritage, the Official Plan, and the tree and B&B bylaws.
He's also a member of the Stratford Chamber of Commerce and on the board of the Ontario Fashion Exhibitors.
"I'm very passionate about the city - I'm the only one with Stratford on my licence plates," Silver said. "I just felt some of the experience I do have, and the ability other people have indicated they see, would serve well in terms of helping Stratford."
His ability to work well with groups of people would be beneficial in the position, as would his ability to see both sides of an issue.
At the top of his list is economic development, and he would like to see the city attracting more jobs to Stratford on a continuous basis. Silver said the factories that have located here over the last few years, along with the RBC data centre, are great news.
And with improvements to the fibre optic and digital network in the city, things can only go up from here.
"We're probably in the best position of any city in Canada to go after more IT-types of business," he said, noting other sectors must not be ignored in the process.
Having been self-employed in marketing and sales for the past 30 years, he'd like to boost the city's profile and assist in attracting new business, whether it be through generation of new ideas or directly pursuing companies.
"It's a very competitive marketplace in terms of towns and cities aggressively going after businesses that are looking to relocate," Silver said. "That's where I would be able to help out."
Affordable housing, vacant lots, brownfields, maintaining recently upgraded infrastructure and the city's debt are also on his radar, as are the demand for recreation facilities, including bike lanes, seniors' recreation, splash pads and swimming pools.
"It's a never-ending list when it comes to recreation, but it is certainly an important element in terms of not only attracting people but ensuring that when they are in the city there's a wide range of amenities for them," he said.
It is important to keep a close eye on tourism to ensure we are doing all we can to attract visitors to the city without relying solely on the Festival, he added.
"We have to look at what other areas of tourism we should be going after and focusing on," Silver said.
Many residents will know Lesley Walker-Fitzpatrick as the local who stood up against Wal-Mart as a citizen presenter before the Ontario Municipal Board.
The artist, performer and educator never had political ambitions before her involvement with the topic, and was surprised when several people asked if she would consider running for office when the matter wrapped up.
"I feel like it's a logical outcome of the work that I did protecting Stratford's local planning rights in front of the OMB,' said Walker-Fitzpatrick, who jokes people will be able to easily find her on the ballot due to her lengthy last name.
Her role of citizen presenter took her into the world of planning, and she learned plenty about the importance of strong policies and protecting planning rights.
"I want to take that knowledge and awareness that I've learned," she said, noting the city is poised to grow with the arrival of the university and RBC data centre.
"I'd like to see that we use wise choices to really hold on to the character of our community as we grow, so that we grow in a smart way."
Walker-Fitzpatrick, who has a diverse background, having experience in the arts, education, social services, tourism and medical fields, has been honoured several times for her achievements. She was a runner up in last year's Citizen of the Year contest, and is a former winner of the YMCA Peace Medal.
She's acted as a respite care provider and supported her quadriplegic, mute brother for nearly 40 years.
She has run a successful B&B and is a member of Friends of the Festival and Gallery 96.Because of her arts background, she said she would be an asset on council as there are no others with similar experience.
Her top issues include promoting a strong sustainable and diverse economy, through the attraction of green industries. She also wants to help protect and enhance the downtown core to ensure it remains multi-functional and doesn't become a place just for tourists.
The Official Plan will also be up for revision and she'd like to draw on her planning experience to help renew the important policy document.
Walker-Fitzpatrick also places great emphasis on maintaining the local quality of life through effective health, educational and health services, while promoting initiatives, such as local food and walking and biking.
She has lived in Stratford for 21 years and raised her children here, which gives her awareness of what it is like for families and the challenges they often face.
Candidate Martin Ritsma was unable to be reached for comment by press time.