Ward 1 incumbent, Ward Sutherland, is facing public outrage after an apparent anti-Semitic comment made during a forum Wednesday night.
Sutherland made the comment while discussing public art, answering a question about how the councillors would deal with contentious issues such as a new arena, water fluoridation and bike lanes.
“I found one of the biggest issues was the fact that the people, the committee that was picking the art, first of all, 10 out of the 10 people were artists,” he said. “And, when they were looking at it, they’re going well, Johnny Jew from New York, he’s the best artist so we’re going to use him and not even look at it.”
In a press release, Sutherland said he was referencing a famous New York designer by the name of Choo to emphasize “the importance of utilizing local artists rather than those from abroad.”
When reaching out to Sutherland for further comment, he denied saying Jew and argued that, “If you listen to the tape - I've had five different people listen to it - they came up with Choo, Dew, and Jew.”
Sutherland commented that he would “never say something like that. To say that against Jews, I would never say that. I'm Metis and stuff like that - why would I do anything racist?”
A search for New York-based artists with the name Johnny Choo did not turn up any results, other than suggesting London-based shoe designer Jimmy Choo.
This comment was in response to a question from the moderator about contentious issues in the city. The forum, hosted at the Tuscany Club, was live streamed and attended by over 300 people. All five candidates, Chris Blatch, Cole Christenson, Cam Khan, Sutherland and Coral Bliss Taylor, were all in attendance.
Other candidates also responded to the topic of public art and the importance of public feedback on city projects.
Overall, the candidates were unanimous in stating that public opinion isn’t being heard, with new projects being developed that don’t involve voter input.
Sutherland stated there isn’t enough community engagement in order to receive feedback, and that council needs to come up with different ways citizens can be involved.
The rest of the candidates agreed that city projects are revealed to the public too late to get a consensus, leaving voters out of decisions until the project has already been started.
“Often when the city does consult, many people have told me that they have put their time in, gathered their facts and gone to this meeting. Then they have given their feedback and realized that the decision had already been made,” said Taylor.
The candidates were also unanimous about the need for better communication between the public and city hall.
When asked about their number one priority as a councillor, Taylor focused on the need to diversify the economy and use city spending to locally source services and products. Christenson and Khan were in agreement that traffic safety is their main concern, promising to invest in infrastructure and cut speeds in residential areas.
However, Sutherland disagreed, saying that each of the Ward’s 10 communities have separate priorities.
“To address with an overall brush is not a smart, strategic thing to do,” he said.
Sutherland argued that those priorities can be determined by analyzing each community to pinpoint the most needed projects.
For his part, Blatch stated there needs to be a better conversation between communities and councillors, pointing out a lack of answers to recent issues such as the Calgary Flames arena and public art.
At the end of the debate, candidates were also asked to describe a project that was successful in another city that could be brought to Calgary.
Coral pointed to Medicine Hat’s success in using a housing-first approach to help end homelessness. Christenson discussed his experience in Singapore with a transit system that tracked where you went in order to better plan transit routes.
Khan said he’d like to see better coordination between the city and community associations in order to directly hear their demands, although he didn’t give a specific example.
Sutherland focused on two projects that have been implemented in Europe: using smaller fire trucks to increase efficiency and alternative techniques for improving drainage systems.
For his part, Blatch spoke about the need to look to Europe for ways to make our transit lines more efficient.
- By Casey Richardson