Doc’s Last Day: An Exit Interview with Mayor O’Keefe

Credit: Darrell Edwards/A City Like Ours (Cropped for Web)
Who'd he vote for ... and why do they call him Doc?

It’s Election Day, and with our current mayor not re-running, it’s his week on the job. Though he stated with confidence to the CBC that he thinks he’d have beaten Andy Wells if they went head to head, he chose to step down, rather than run for another term as mayor.

It was O’Keefe who replaced Wells as our mayor in 2008, when Wells stepped down to accept a new job offer as chair of the Public Utilities Board. The 14th and outgoing mayor of St. John’s, Dennis O’Keefe, clocked 20 years on council, having come on as a councillor at large in 1997.

O’Keefe first ran for council within weeks of retiring as a teacher. Former students helped him campaign and stick up signs. As a councillor at large, he was very well liked, deemed very approachable, and it got him re-elected in the role in 2001, with the most votes of any candidate.

Riding that wave of public approval, O’Keefe ran for Deputy Mayor in 2005, and took it with a whopping 75% of votes. Three years into his stint as deputy mayor, O’Keefe replaced Wells in a by-election. Under O’Keefe’s reign, city council meetings immediately became much more tame, cordial, and orderly than the Wells-era gongshows. He won the following 2 mayoral elections with 57% of votes both times.

Despite his own thoughts on his personal accomplishments, it’s safe to say his legacy will be the development of our cruise ship industry, which is worth just over 12 million a year to the city.

To grow the industry to that level, he’s had to spend a little money, including $150,000 between 2005-2015 to attend travel shows. That garnered some public backlash from folks who haven’t heard the mantra: you have to spend money to make money. In his defence, $150,000 over 10 years, to build something worth 12 million a year, is good investment math.

Perhaps less fresh in modern memory is the time he butted heads with Harper’s federal government, for decisions he felt treated our province unfairly, lessened the decision-making power of cities like ours, and failed to provide adequate federal jobs in St. John’s. Below are a few Qs for Doc as he packs up his mayoral desk.

Can We Ask Who the Outgoing Mayor Voted For, and Why? 

Danny Breen.  Danny has the experience and the leadership qualities to guide The City for the next four years.

What Would You Say is the Hardest Part of Sitting in the Mayoral Throne?

The most difficult part of being Mayor is not being able to help people who need help right away.  For example, having to say there is a wait list of several years to people who are in serious need of adequate housing.

Is There Anything About Your Reign You’re Particularly Fond of Having Accomplished? 

Yes, growth in affordable housing components, eliminating future massive pension liability for The City, restoring respect to the Chamber, and placement of a young, talented leadership team.

Is it Going to be Hard to Stay Away from City Hall or Municipal Politics After 20 Years on the Job?   

St. John’s is my City.  I was born and grew up here.  I will continue to be involved in city affairs, continue to make a positive contribution where I can, and continue to leave my print on the City.

And … Where Did the Nickname “Doc” Come From? 

I have been called “Doc” since as long as I can recall … all my life.  I think it has to do with the initials “DOK.”

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