For the third time in seven months, malady Montreal has a new mayor.

Executive committee chairman Laurent Blanchard emerged victorious after a close vote at city hall Tuesday that saw two of the five mayoral candidates withdraw from the running at the last instant and throw their support behind two different frontrunners.

Blanchard was elected with 30 votes out of 61 by his fellow city councillors at a special meeting of council Tuesday, order a vote forced by the resignation of Michael Applebaum last week after he was arrested on corruption charges. Council speaker Harout Chitilian received 28 votes. Lachine councillor Jane-Cowell Poitras received three votes.

“I wanted to be voted in as someone who brings all the people together,” Blanchard said after the vote.

“Integrity, stability, experience, inedpenende and collaboration,” Blanchard pledged.

“Now we will have four months ahead of us to show we can run Montreal in harmony until the next general elections.”

Always considered the favourites, the race between former Vision Montreal member Blanchard and former Union Montreal member Harout Chitilian became even closer after Projet Montréal candidate Francois Croteau withdrew his candidacy. He said he was supporting Blanchard in the interest of maintaining stability and continuity at city hall, and because he did not have widespread support. This gave Blanchard the backing of at least 10 Projet Montreal councillors, as many as 11 Vision Montreal councillors and an unknown number of the 41 indepdendents sitting on council, most of whom were with Union Montreal.

Then, at the end of a lengthy speech outlining his extensive experience in city administration, DeSousa also withdrew his candidacy, but threw his support behind Chitilian. Both were formerly of Union Montreal, which was the dominant force on council for 11 years. In the 2009 elections, Union Montreal won 38 of the city’s 65 council seats. Last May, torn by repeated allegations of illegal party financing via kickbacks from engineering and construction firms vying for contracts, Union Montreal disbanded.

And so the race was between Blanchard, Chitilian and Lachine councillor Jane Cowell-Poitras, who said she was staying in as a sign of her great affection for the city of Mtl after 25 years as a councillor.

In his candidacy speech, Blanchard, pledged to maintain stability for the city of Montreal, “the cornerstone of the city’s crediblity,” in the view of its citizens, investors and the government of Quebec. As chairman of the executive committee, appointed by Applebaum seven months ago after he took the mayoral reins and constructed a new coalition, Blanchard had proven his ability to steer a coalition committee of 12 members made up of separate parties and conduct city business. Elect me, he said, and the city will continue to function smoothly until and after the next elections. He said he would maintain the coalition, but said he might consider stepping down as chairman of the executive committee as DeSousa has suggested, to limit the amount of power concentrated at city hall. He said it was time to end the era of “autocratic governments” ruled by one party, and embrace the spirit of coalition now present on council.

In his candidacy speech, Chitilian evoked the spirits of two founding fathers of Montreal – Jeanne Mance and de Maisonneuve. Above all, he said, they represented the virtues of resilience and respect, two attributes Montreal is in dire need of now, he said. As council speaker for just over two years, the 32-year-old Chitilian said he, too, had proved his ability to maintain order in a neutral fashion over a divided council and guide it towards consensus. He pledged to maintain the coalition government as well.

The city lost its second leader in seven months to allegations of corruption when Michael Applebaum was arrested on charges of municipal fraud and corruption related to his time as borough mayor last week. Applebaum was elected interim mayor to replace Gérald Tremblay, who was forced to resign in November over allegations of illegal donations to his Union Montreal party.

Five councillors were vying to represent Montreal for the next four months until general elections are held in November. Following a public question period, each will give a speech before council of up to 20 minutes in length, after which all of the city’s 62 councillors in attendance will vote one time. The candidate with the highest number of votes will be Montreal’s 43rd mayor, serving until the general elections on Nov. 3.

The five candidates were: Executive committee chairman Laurent Blanchard; city council speaker Harout Chitilian; St-Laurent borough mayor Alan DeSousa; Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie borough mayor Francois Croteau and Lachine councillor and deputy mayor Jane Cowell-Poitras.

Early in the race, council speaker Chitilian and chairman Blanchard were considered the frontrunners, based on their experience running meetings of councillors in the past with an independent streak.

By Montreal Gazette

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