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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Election 2022: Analysis: By the numbers: How Zalepa scored a dominant election victory
An excited Gary Zalepa walks into the NOTL Community Centre shortly after winning the race for lord mayor. Somer Slobodian

Dave Eke, Patrick Darte and now Betty Disero – one term and done as lord mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In the Oct. 24 vote, NOTL extended its recent history of ousting the sitting lord mayor after just four years in office.

Why and how remains to be seen and we’ll leave that to the political pundits and campaign insiders to debate.

The last lord mayor to string together consecutive wins was Gary Burroughs (re-elected as a councillor again this year).

He used to dominate the mayoral races, victorious three times, including once by acclamation. He won in 2000, 2003 and 2006.

Since then, it’s been a revolving door: Eke winning in 2010, Darte in 2014, Disero in 2018, Gary Zalepa in 2022.

While confidential poll numbers from one of the campaigns (and popular wisdom) had Disero and Zalepa running neck and neck this time, with only a percentage point or two between them, when the rubber hit the proverbial road on election day, it wasn’t even close.

Change ruled again.

Those survey sample sizes were probably way too small to ever be reliable (automated queries with responses from a few hundred voters). Certainly, in the cold light of election night, with Zalepa taking 49 per cent to Disero’s 34 per cent, the real numbers told a much different tale.

So, what happened?

Niagara-on-the-Lake only had 15 polls in total (including advance polls, long-term care homes, proxy and mail-in vote). And the hard data from the Town of NOTL only summarizes info by the five communities: Old Town, Virgil, Glendale, St. Davids and Queenston.

But the numbers still tell some interesting tales.

Overall, Disero attracted 1,583 fewer votes than she did in 2018 when she beat Darte by a margin of 1,426.

This time, she edged Zalepa by 260 votes in Old Town, but he won all the remaining polling districts. (In contrast, she beat Darte by 1,625 votes in Old Town in 2018.)

More than half Disero’s total 2022 vote deficit compared to four years ago was in Old Town, considered by some, including people with the Zalepa campaign, to be “a Betty stronghold.”

She won Old Town but her total dropped by 872 from four years ago and Zalepa (1,203 votes) had a lot more support in Old Town than Darte did (710 votes in 2018).

Third-place finisher Vaughn Goettler earned 561 votes in Old Town, 95 more than Daniel Turner took in 2018. Goettler’s 1,268 total was a respectable finish for a political rookie who entered the race late.

Town-wide, voter turnout was about 58 per cent in 2018 and fell to about 47 per cent this year, but that only translated into about 800 fewer votes being cast.

And the total mayoral ballots cast in Old Town were 3,227 this year versus 3,511 in 2018.

Any way you look at it, this year’s Old Town results really hurt Disero, when many thought that area could return her to office. Old Town said no.

Zalepa took Virgil by almost 1,100 votes (1,504 to 484) as Disero’s support fell by about 400 compared to 2018. That year, Darte (1,180) won Virgil by about 300 over Disero.

This year, Zalepa was untouchable, it seems.

With the mayor-elect’s support of the regional process that led to the proposed – and controversial – St. Davids roundabout, many people figured it would hurt him among village voters.

Didn’t happen.

Zalepa won St. Davids 597-411 over Disero. Her support there dropped 20 per cent from 2018 when she won St. Davids 609-482 over Darte.

Village voter turnout was 42 per cent and total votes St. Davids votes fell by just 66 over 2018.

Some other interesting numbers lurk among the data. Erwin Wiens, the new deputy lord mayor, topped every poll except Old Town, where he was a mere 14 votes behind the popular Burroughs (1,913 to 1,899).

Often a thorn in Disero’s side, the plain-speaking, outspoken Wiens obviously resonated with most voters. A grape farmer who aims to champion the interests of the agricultural community, he received almost 5,000 votes overall.

Incumbent Allan Bisback, edged out by Maria Mavridis by 66 votes for the eighth council seat, actually polled 200 more votes than he did in 2018, finishing seventh. This time he was ninth.

St. Davids resident Adriana Cater Vizzari thumped all council candidates on her home turf, taking 914 votes. Wiens was closest at 811.

Cater Vizzari also did well way over in Old Town, garnering support from 1,173.

NOTL has a “vote anywhere system,” meaning you can submit your ballot at any poll but your vote is recorded under the district in which you live.

Old Town showed the highest turnout, with 54.5 per cent, Virgil was 48 and St. Davids and Queenston 42 each.

Perhaps some Glendale residents’ complaints of not really feeling like they are part of Niagara-on-the-Lake were reflected in the poor turnout there.

Only 28 per cent – 364 of 1,283 eligible voters – cast ballots. And Zalepa gobbled up 227 of them.

That turnout statistic might be evidence that the town – and the new council – has a long way to go to make Glendale residents feel included.

If growth projections hold true, some day soon that neighbourhood will be home to nearly half of the town’s populace and could have a big say in how the town is governed.

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