Anne Marie DeCicco-Best, in her third term as Mayor of London, Ontario

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Anne Marie DeCicco-Best
Former Mayor of London, Ontario

By Brian Baker, Senior Correspondent

18 February 2009: Anne Marie DeCicco-Best is set to complete a decade of continuous service as mayor of London, Ontario, in 2010. She has been elected three times altogether, most recently for a four year term in 2007. In the present unprecedented circumstances her top priority is preparing London to be well positioned for the future. In her 2009 state of the city address, made to the London Chamber of Commerce on 22 January, Mayor DeCicco-Best says her approach to guiding the Southern Ontario city through the global recession and positioning it and its people for the recovery is to focus on the new green economic sectors and life sciences.

Update 2010: Joe Fontana is London's new mayor

“As one of Canada’s most vibrant and livable cities London has a strong foundation, innovative ideas and a renewed commitment to build on its strengths but it is now imperative for us to re-think and re-define a plan to create a stronger economy, a cleaner environment and a safer world,” she told business leaders.

Emphasising that by focusing on the environment and sustainable development, the city and region will provide more green jobs Mayor DeCicco-Best said “London must keep pace with an expanding definition of sustainability and innovative ways to attain it. ”In order to further strengthen the city’s strategic position she re-emphasised the city council’s very strong support for the proposed Windsor-Quebec City high-speed rail line.

Anne Marie DeCicco-Best used the speech to launch new energy saver awards to recognise businesses doing exemplary work. The awards are a product of her Mayors Sustainable Energy Council. The Council was formed in 2008 following a Round-Table called by the mayor. Its members are drawn from utilities, other energy businesses and educational institutions and it is initially focused on energy conservation and efficient utilisation in London.

The round table was one of four convened by the mayor in 2007. All reflected her emphasis on equipping London for future economic growth sectors. They addressed life sciences, advanced manufacturing and agri-food. and adopted both a city and regional perspective.

She says “at our level municipalities cannot protect people from the effects of this global event but we can offer hope and provide a basis for our future. I am going to be talking a lot from now on about ‘Greening to Compete’ “

A partnership of the London Economic Development Corporation, the city’s economic development agency, with house-builders, academia and local businesses is producing a London Green Development Strategy Aware the City Council has to set an example the mayor has ordered departments to integrate a green culture into all projects and the bodies it influences. There are incentives for the private sector through planning techniques like zoning bonuses.

One of London’s strengths is a strong, prudent fiscal base. It has been graded triple A for 29 consecutive years. Mayor DeCicco-Best says this will help the city to achieve, “the minimum necessary tax rise in 2009 without cutting the quality of essential services at a time when more of our people are in need.”

She says now, amidst the current challenges, is the time to fight to achieve dreams of the future. “If we are committed and willing to give our best then the best is what we will have in London.”

Born and educated in London, Ontario, Anne Marie De Cicco (she added the Best to her name after marrying in 2005) was first elected to the City Council in 1991 when she was only 26. She had covered the city hall beat as a journalist in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Speaking to City Mayors in February 2009 she recalled “l thought people were making decisions without enough research or knowledge and l wanted to get involved in it all. Initially, l represented the ward in which l was living and my focus was on that. I had no thought of becoming mayor at that time.”

During her first eight years in charge of the city - currently home to 353,000 people - Anne Marie DeCicco-Best has had a particular focus on two policy areas and interventions which she cites as those in which she thinks she has made a difference.

“I have done a lot of work with our economic development agency to make sure we attract new companies to our city and we have had success in job creation“, she says. In late 2008 Mayor DeCicco-Best led a group to Korea to meet with leading executives at the headquarters of Hanwha which has selected London as its North American production base. Hanwha is Korea’s fifth largest conglomerate.

“The second area is our downtown renewal which has taken place during the last seven years and has been an important part of the work for me,”she says.

She points to the strategic plan developed by the city. The 2007-10 strategic plan identified 8 key objectives and is regularly fine-tuned to respond to changing circumstances. Citizens can access annual reports on each priority and compare performance with other municipalities..

In 2008 the mayor co-chaired a Federation of Canadian Municipalities inquiry and report on homelessness and social housing. The report called for change in the Federal Government approach to the issues.

“We said that the current programmes were badly co-ordinated and inefficient. We have more people homeless in Canada now than before and also more people faced with choosing between paying the rent and putting food on the table.”

“In the report we called for less red tape and more local flexibility so that each city could allocate the money in the way, which will work best for that city,” she says.

Subsequently, the lobbying by the municipalities succeeded in getting the programmes extended but have not yet secured major reform.

That mirrors progress on the larger ambitions of urban leaders. As a senior member of the Canada Big Cities Mayors Caucus DeCicco-Best is a long-time proponent of financial re-balancing between the Federal, Provincial and Municipal tiers of government in Canada.

“We are not yet recognised as full partners,” she says. “Cities can be the engine of the economy and the key to Canada achieving world status.”

“We collect a lot of tax income for the provincial and federal governments and very little of it comes back to us for key investments in all our futures.”

Her focus on economics has been widely recognised in Ontario and she was the only city leader to address the Ontario Economic Summit held in 2007.

The Mayor and the council have worked closely with the University of Western Ontario to strengthen the city by maximising the advantage of being one of Canada’s foremost higher education and research centers. Six academics from the university sit on her Mayors Sustainable Energy Council including Nobel Prize winner Professor Gordon McBean. Promoting and expanding University of Western Ontario’s strong position in the life sciences sector and more broadly in Canadian society is critical to the London economic strategy.

A recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from Fanshawe College for her on-going contribution to the community, Anne Marie DeCicco-Best says she will decide on whether or not to seek a fourth term by early 2010. “I have to make a career plan for the next part of my life and l will only considering running for another four years as mayor if l think l still have something to contribute.”

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