If Cheri O'Brien ever decided to clear out the thieves and squatters from her Albert Street neighbourhood, she could almost certainly get the job done faster and more thoroughly than any of the candidates vying to represent her as Ward 2 city councillors.
A half-century ago, O'Brien was a tough-as-nails U.S. Marine, proficient in hand-to-hand combat and serving as a military data processor.
Last week, she celebrated her 76th birthday.
Also last week, O'Brien attended a meet-and-greet for Ward 2 council candidates at the James L. McIntyre Centennial Library.
Her neighbourhood isn't what it used to be.
In recent months she's been on a mission to get it cleaned up.
When the well-attended library meeting was opened for questions, O'Brien was first in line.
What did the candidates think about assigning police or private security to old-fashioned foot patrols, she wanted to know.
"I do think a police presence, foot patrols, would be a deterrent," she said.
"Maybe using some of the downtown plaza money for it?" O'Brien added.
"That would be pretty good, because I'm not going to that plaza unless there's police there," responded candidate Dennis Murphy.
Murphy said Sault Ste. Marie doesn't have a large enough police force to do foot patrols but he supported putting private security on the sidewalks.
Incumbent Coun. Luke Dufour, who also chairs the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board, said police patrols are important, especially downtown.
"One of the main ways that you could free up lots of police is to break up the quadrant system," Dufour said.
"All of our policing citywide is not deployed on any kind of dynamic model."
"It's deployed based just on geography. So you can have two police officers in the north end of town sometimes, checking yards and stuff like that. Meanwhile, we have a lot of problems downtown."
"So if we're ever able to change the quadrant model and the police union contract, that will allow us to have a lot more, fulsome, dynamic patrols downtown."
"I think patrols are important, they are a deterrent," said Dufour.
"But we also know that they do not prevent crime. Because when patrols leave, people come back."
Another candidate, Nick Armstrong, said the reasons for downtown crime should be known before more police resources are deployed in the area.
Incumbent Coun. Lisa Vezeau-Allen said if more officers are prioritized, that will be reflected in the police services board budget, which must then be approved by city council.
Meanwhile, a similar meet-and-greet session was held for Ward 1 candidates.
The following are some Ward 1 highlights:
- Sonny Spina called for the city to develop a tourism master plan
- William McPhee said we need a local recycling plant to handle a broader range of plastics
- Sandra Hollingsworth emphasized that she was the only member of city council who fought to keep the budget increase under 4.1 percent
- Brent Derochie talked about affordable construction of stable and quality housing
- Johnathan Lalonde discussed the need for change and for a safe and affordable city