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Côte-St-Luc mayoral race shaping up to be battle between Mitchell Brownstein and Robert Libman

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Côte-St-Luc, Que., Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, surrounded by supporters, makes his re-election bid official on June 9. JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO

He hasn’t yet decided whether he would try to get his old job back as mayor of Côte-St-Luc, Que., but Robert Libman has come out swinging against incumbent Mitchell Brownstein, for his and his supporters’ criticism of how Libman handled the municipal demerger issue more than a decade ago.

Libman suggests that federal partisan politics are motivating the “attack.”

At a press conference held at a kosher restaurant on June 9, Brownstein officially announced that he is seeking re-election in November. A longtime councillor, Brownstein was acclaimed mayor in March 2016, following the resignation of Anthony Housefather, who was elected as the federal Liberal MP for Mount Royal the previous fall.

Housefather, who had been mayor for 10 years, was on hand to endorse Brownstein’s candidacy. Friends for more than 20 years, Housefather said Brownstein is “probably the person I have asked advice of more than any other.”

He and Brownstein were leaders of the Côte-St-Luc demerger campaign from 2002 to 2004.

Also present were Peter Trent, former mayor of Westmount, Que., and former chair of the Association of Suburban Mayors, and Lawrence Bergman, who was an MNA for the riding of D’Arcy-McGee for 19 years.

READ: PROPOSED NEW SHUL DIVIDES LARGELY JEWISH MONTREAL SUBURB

Both praised Brownstein for, as Bergman put it, his “blue-chip integrity.”

Brownstein, 56, has also received the endorsement of all eight councillors, each of whom will be seeking re-election.

The decision by residents of Côte-St-Luc to fight the forced creation of the island-wide city of Montreal, which was finally achieved through a referendum in 2004, has proven to be the right one, Housefather said.

“I’ve not heard one person say, ‘Why did we not stay in Montreal? What a terrible decision we made’.”

Then Housefather turned his sights on Libman, the former provincial Equality Party leader and MNA, who was acclaimed Côte-St-Luc mayor in 1998 and then borough mayor of Côte-St-Luc-Hampstead-Montreal West in 2001.

At the time, he was named to the Montreal Executive Committee, which is responsible for urban planning, and supported continuing as part of the megacity (with some nuances). He quit municipal politics in 2005.

Côte-St-Luc city hall. CHICOUTIMI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In the 2015 federal election, he ran unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate in Mount Royal against Housefather.

Housefather, a borough councillor at the time, said winning on the demerger issue was a hard struggle, and Libman a tough opponent.

A blue ribbon became the symbol of the demerger campaign, he recalled. “Libman called them shmatte and ordered the ribbons taken down from public property, where they were legally, and from private property.

“Mitchell reacted calmly and simply said ‘put them back up,’ which we did over one weekend.”

Libman, 56, responded with a statement: “I haven’t even decided yet if I am running … yet the current mayor and other local politicians decided to come out and attack me … with falsehoods and exaggerations. This odd spectacle was bizarre and over the top, but I’ve always been up against this Liberal establishment mentality that is so condescending towards our community and which constantly takes us for granted and tells us how we have to vote.

“Their comments about demerger were disingenuous. About half of the current Côte-St-Luc council supported the same position that I did at time.…It was an intellectual debate about municipal structures and taxation. I wasn’t against true demerger, but opposed the (Quebec) government’s Bill 9 … the so-called demerger legislation was a ‘dog’s breakfast’ allowing former suburbs to supposedly demerge according to a controversial voting formula but also stripped them of any clout and political power and forcing them into a ‘taxation without representation’ straitjacket.”

‘Côte-St-Luc is a great community in which to live, but we can do much better with stronger leadership’

A lawyer by profession, Brownstein said he would continue to be a full-time mayor, if re-elected.

“Our finances have never been better,” he said. “This year, we had a surplus of over $1 million and we will be paying $2.4 million less to the Montreal agglomeration council over the next three years for island-wide services.”

Libman begs to differ. “Côte-St-Luc is a great community in which to live, but we can do much better with stronger leadership,” he said. “We have the second-highest tax rate of all 35 cities and boroughs on the island of Montreal. This was unheard of when I was mayor.”

Brownstein, first elected to council in 1990, was also praised as a “consensus” builder.

Sidney Benizri, the city’s first francophone Sephardic councillor, who was elected in a byelection last year, said, “I was immediately welcomed by Mayor Brownstein as part of the team. I appreciate his openness to all communities.… Mitchell has a capacity for united people and this characterizes his strong leadership skills.”

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