Outgoing mayor Christian Provenzano is promising a smooth transition for his successor Matthew Shoemaker, who will take on the role starting Nov. 16.
Provenzano was interviewed on Tuesday, one day after voters in Sault Ste. Marie chose Shoemaker from a field of five candidates. On Wednesday, the two met in that same office.
Both lawyers by profession, they have been on council since 2014 — Shoemaker as councillor for Ward 3 and Provenzano as mayor.
“I expect I am more uniquely positioned to understand how Matt’s feeling and what he’s dealing with than anybody else in the community,” said Provenzano. “He’s a young lawyer in his thirties who has a practice and a beautiful wife and two little boys who is starting a mayoralty that is going to take a lot of his time and attention and it’s going to have a lot of the issues that I faced.”
“I was a young mayor in my thirties, with a practice and a wife-to-be and children during it. There are characteristics about our lives that run parallel,” he added.
For the next three weeks, Provenzano promises to give his successor as much guidance as he can.
“I will absolutely be there for him because I want to support him in any way that made him able to do his job the best that he could, because the success of him and the council will be our community’s success,” said Provenzano.
On election night, Shoemaker told SooToday’s David Helwig about the current mayor’s offer.
”I think this will be a smooth, seamless transition between him and I, and I'm appreciative of his offer to facilitate that." said Shoemaker.
Provenzano told SooToday his experience was much different after he defeated mayor Debbie Amaroso in the 2014 municipal election. At the time, the city’s chief administrative officer was Joe Fratesi and current CAO Malcolm White was the city clerk.
He recalled the span of time between the day he was elected and the day he was sworn in.
”I was in this building once for like half an hour at 7:30 in the morning with one person and it was made pretty clear to me I wasn’t needed in the building again until December first,’ said Provenzano. “That’s not going to happen this time.”
“There were times when it felt like a lonely job and I would have liked some mentorship, that I didn’t have,” he added.
Reached through Facebook on Wednesday, Amaroso told SooToday that Provenzano "had full access to the CAO, the mayor’s executive assistant and any other staff member he wished to speak to" when the chain of office transferred between them after the 2014 election.
”He never requested any guidance or advice from me. My recollection is during my congratulatory phone call [on] election night he was told my door was open,” she added.
Provenzano said his schedule is fairly light over the next three weeks, but for any event he will be attending, Shoemaker will be invited to stand alongside him.
“There is not a lot on the books between now and the day they are sworn in. The only thing I am going to do as mayor is Remembrance Day, because that is very meaningful and the only speaker outside the role of the 49th [Field Regiment] and the Legion is the mayor,” said Provenzano. “I am still the mayor that day and I have spoken at every Remembrance Day, so I am going to do that.”
Although Provenzano promises to be available for Shoemaker over the next three weeks, he said after that his involvement will be up to the new mayor.
“I think it is critical that I give Matt a lot of space. I want him and his council to be successful, so I am not going to be engaged in municipal events or engagements,” said Provenzano. “I will be available to him, but I won’t actively insert myself in municipal affairs.”
Provenzano said he will remain active through volunteerism, but in the short term will step away from public life to concentrate on his law practice and young family.
“I’m not going anywhere. My business is here. My parents are here and my in laws are here and my girls are settled here,” he said.
One thing Provenzano said not to expect is for him to run for office provincially or federally.
Provenzano twice ran for the federal seat in Sault Ste. Marie under the Liberal banner, once in 2006 and again in 2011.
“I am really not a partisan, I don’t have any designs or plans in that respect. We will see what the future holds, but my focus and my intention and desire is to be a lawyer and to practice law,” said Provenzano. “I like the non-partisan nature of the mayoralty so much and was always frustrated by the partisan nonsense I had to deal with when I waded through the other levels of government.”
Provenzano has planned his final engagement as mayor, visiting the Indigenous Friendship Centre. Attending a meet and greet there was the first event he attended after taking office in December of 2016.
“It was a very impactful and influential experience,” said Provenzano. “I told Cathy [Syrette ] at the [Indigenous] Friendship Centre that I would be happy if it was the last thing I did as mayor.”
“I was invited there and it was essentially meant to be a meet and greet and that’s what it was, but it was a really substantive, lengthy one,” he recalled. “So they met me in a very genuine and respectful kind of engagement, talked to me about the challenges they have living in Sault Ste. Marie — really heavy things, like racism and discrimination. So it was really a sobering start.”
Provenzano said the experience taught him the importance of listening and that different members of the community can have very different experiences, even living in the same city.
“That was very impactful and I always try to stay mindful of that reality, that people are having very different experiences and mayor and council have to be respectful to the spectrum of those experiences and make sure that you’re not just taking care of the people that operate in the same circles that you do, that you are looking out for and trying to make positive changes for people who are right along the spectrum.”