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‘Tomorrow we’re going to start afresh’: Port Moody’s new mayor says it’s time to heal divisions

Meghan Lahti is the city's first female mayor in Port Moody's 109-year history

Port Moody has its first female mayor in its 109-year history.

Veteran councillor Meghan Lahti defeated fellow councillor Steve Milani by almost 1,000 votes Saturday to take over the position vacated by Rob Vagramov after he decided not to seek a second term.

Lahti said the result is a resounding affirmation that Port Moody residents were tired of some of the divisiveness and acrimony that marked the previous four years at city hall. Instead, she added, she plans to usher in a new era of collaboration.

“We’ve had a lot of dysfunction and negative behaviour, and it’s gone, it’s not going to happen anymore,” Lahti said between hugs and congratulatory fist bumps at her campaign headquarters on St. Johns Street, between a liquor store and a 7-11. “I think the voters wanted change and they’ve signalled that.”

Indeed, that desire for change filtered all the way through council as only one incumbent — Diana Dilworth — was re-elected. She’ll be joined by newcomers Samantha Agtarap, Kyla Knowles, Haven Lurbiecki, Callan Morrison and David Stuart.

Councillors Hunter Madsen and Amy Lubik both lost their seats, although Lubik finished only two votes behind Stuart, a result that will likely trigger a recount.

Another councillor, Zoe Royer, chose not to run again. Instead, she turned her attention to winning a place on the school board, which succeeded, along with incumbent trustee Lisa Park.

Lahti said she’s excited to work with the new council.

“I’m very collaborative and I’m very consensus-driven,” she said. “The people we have elected on our council are also of that same mentality, they want to see consensus-driven decision making.”

More importantly, Lahti added, she wants to rebuild relationships with Port Moody’s residents and bring them into the conversation about the city’s future.

“The community has a right to be involved in those conversations,” she said. “We have to be open to hearing what the community wants, we can’t manipulate it, craft that input so it steers in a certain direction.”

After a difficult, and sometimes caustic campaign that even included a parody video posted on social media by Vagramov that dubbed his criticisms of Lahti over her own campaign video, Lahti ended up winning all 10 of Port Moody’s polling stations, including both advance polls and the mail-in ballots, as well as in Milani’s own Moody Centre neighbourhood. In the spirit of healing, though, she said she hoped her rival would bring his passion for the city to serve on one of its committees.

In a statement, Milani declined to share his own plans for the future. But he did wish the new mayor and council "success in moving the community's vision forward over the next term while maintaining Port Moody's incredible quality of life as the city grows."

Lahti said her win was testimony to her commitment to run a clean campaign that focussed more on what she could do to set the city on the right path for the next four years rather than widening the fissures from the past four years. She said that future includes an approach to .growth that’s sensitive to the challenges of climate change and leverages access to mass transit.

“I’m not interested in what happened before,” Lahti said. “I’m interested in what happens tomorrow, and tomorrow we’re going to start afresh.”

In total, 8,928 residents cast ballots, out of 24,775 eligible voters for a turnout percentage of 36.38.