News / London

From Victoria Park to city hall, Occupy London leader to run for mayor

He’s a long-haired 29-year-old who was the face of Occupy London.

He’s a technology buff who cycles everywhere, even in the winter, and he acknowledges he has virtually no political experience.

But Eric Shepperd has decided he’s going to be the next mayor of London.

“I’m not cutting my hair for this,” he said. “The people who wouldn’t vote for me because of my hair wouldn’t vote for me anyway.”

The unlikely politician announced his intention to run Thursday with very little fanfare.

He made the declaration on social media, tweeting: “OK Joe, let’s go” — a direct challenge to Mayor Joe Fontana, the head of the city that cleared his friends out of Victoria Park as the Occupy protest ended a year and a half ago.

Shepperd, who works for an internet service provider downtown, insists the Occupy anti-capitalist movement isn’t such a strange source of politicians.

“Occupy started a conversation,” he said. “Suddenly, people were talking about politics, the environment, different issues, in different ways.

“It also spawned an entirely new generation of activists. It brought people into the public sphere that wouldn’t have been involved otherwise.”

Shepperd was one of the founding members of Occupy London, and said he learned a lot from the experience, mainly “diplomacy.” He often spoke for the protesters and found himself calming internal divisions in the camp.

His decision to run for mayor was triggered by frustration at large developments in the Forest City like the retail and cinema plans for the woodlot off Wellington Road.

“I want to see an end to the sprawl,” he said. “The city’s growing, but I want to see a better model. I want more development downtown, and I want to see less on the fringes.

“I want to see a place where you can walk and cycle, where there is better transit. I want to make it possible for people to go without cars.”

Shepperd’s policies include changing tax codes to make downtown parking lots less profitable and development more attractive, restricting development on the edge of the city, and introducing a network of powerful neighbourhood councils to help make important decisions for the city.

He also wants to target investment from technology companies, make London a “Mecca” for artists and take a new approach to transit, with more bike lanes and better bus services.

“I want to see positive leadership, inspirational leadership out of the mayoral office, and I think I can provide that.”

On the horizon

— London’s next mayoral election will be on Oct. 27, 2014.

— Candidate registration opens Jan. 6 and closes Sept. 8.

— So far, only incumbent Joe Fontana and Eric Shepperd have indicated an intention to run.

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