Mayor Heyck presses pause

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So it’s official. Yellowknife will have a new mayor after this fall’s municipal election.

It’s no secret Mark Heyck has travelled a bumpy road the past few months.

He has been bruised by his public battles with city councillor Niels Konge and the explosive revelations of alleged improprieties with the city’s manager of bylaw have raised the public’s ire.

Still, his decision not to seek a third term in the mayoral chair came as a surprise to many.

He is, after all, only 42 and has been active in politics most of his adult life, having served on city council since 2003 and as president of the Western Arctic NDP riding association from 2000 to 2011.

To “step back” from politics, as he stated on Twitter, seems untimely.
The mayor is either simply tired and in need of a break from political life, as claimed, or he has made a conscious decision to get out while the going is good and maybe try again later.

Heyck came to the mayor’s office as the voice of the status quo, hand-picked by his predecessor Gord Van Tighem. The four-term, twice-acclaimed Van Tighem was a popular mayor but city hall was in turmoil when he left.

Mayor Mark Heyck sports red longjohns and delivers a speech at the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Longjohn Jamboree.
NNSL file photo

One of the first things Heyck did after getting elected mayor in 2012 was preside over the firing of the city’s senior administrator Bob Long.

And while Heyck came to office as the “establishment” candidate, his rise to the top at city hall was not without an ambitious platform.

Heyck promised to work on social issues and increase transparency at city hall. He called for a city-run police force downtown, and after the city’s debacle with the Con geothermal project, sought out a more achievable community energy program focused largely on city facilities.

On these items, he has found some success, save for the police force.

Near the end of Van Tighem’s reign, reporters couldn’t even get a list of public events taking place at the library without going through the mayor’s office. Heyck, a big proponent of social media, presided over a city hall that has been much more engaged with its citizenry, whether it be through timely tweets during forest fires and blackouts, a revamped website, or courtesy training for city staff.

Under his watch, the city has embarked on a 10-year, $147 million homelessness plan, starting with a Housing First program and a street outreach initiative to take intoxicated people off the streets.

These have been positive steps but ask the average resident if they believe much progress has been made in dealing the city’s social issues, the answer is likely no. Much of downtown remains as decrepit as ever, aided not one bit by the now vacant lots the city purchased with Heyck at the helm.

And while the city, including Mayor Heyck, have been tweeting away to residents, last fall’s dump of city hall emails from 2014 reveal an administration that at times was hostile to legitimate issues raised by councillors and residents. It’s not clear what steps Heyck took to remedy that.

Meanwhile, he held the line on taxes this year but many fees and levies have skyrocketed under his two terms.

Heyck has also had difficulty at times bringing council on board with various plans. As a city councillor, he was typically one of the most informed and articulate members sitting at the table. His preparedness as a city councillor, however, has not translated into wide success in achieving consensus as mayor.

A telling episode occurred in 2015 after Heyck pitched a splash pad to residents on Facebook. It was savaged by council at a subsequent budget meeting where it appeared the mayor had neglected to bring any councillors on board with him prior to the meeting.

Heyck was also short on defenders during his tussle with Konge after five city councillors penned a letter question the legitimacy of an investigation he launched into Konge’s interactions with city staff.

One thing that can’t be taken away from Heyck is his dedication to the city, which he clearly loves and wishes to prosper.

It’s therefore difficult to imagine he is done with public service at such a young age. For the man who once won praise from former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair upon winning the party’s nomination in 2012, it’s difficulty to imagine Heyck is done with politics nor politics done with him.

A betting person would be wise not rule out a return to the public sphere at some point in the not too distant future.

It would be to the territory’s benefit if it was sooner, rather than later.

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