Citing a shift in personal priorities, Town Ward representative Kemi Akapo will not seek re-election to Peterborough City Council this October.
In an exclusive interview with kawarthaNOW, Akapo said reflection on “where I’m at in my life right now” preceded her decision not to run. She also provided kawarthaNOW with an exclusive statement about her decision.
“I’m feeling a pull towards going in another direction — I feel I need to invest my time elsewhere,” said Akapo, adding “I don’t think it’s fair or right to take up the (council) space if I’m not going to be fully invested.”
“My plan has always been to get my Masters,” Akapo explained. “I want to do that now. While it’s possible to do your Masters and be a city councillor at the same time, I don’t know if I want to put that much pressure on myself. It’s a lot.”
“And I want to spend more time with my family. I know every politician says that and it sounds like a cop-out but, in my case, it really isn’t. They live outside of the province. It’s a lot of driving and time spent on the road. The work of being a city councillor requires time and attention. At this point in my life, I can’t do both (be a councillor and connect with family) well.”
A native of Nigeria, Akapo moved to Peterborough in 2005 to attend Trent University where she attained her Bachelor of Arts in both English Literature and International Development Studies. A case management coordinator with the New Canadians Centre since May 2020, she was elected to her Town Ward seat in October 2018 — her first foray into the political ring.
With her announcement, Akapo becomes the third current member of council not seeking re-election, all of whom are women. She joins Mayor Diane Therrien and Otonabee Ward councillor Kim Zippel in making that declaration.
To date, four others have announced their intention to campaign for election in Town Ward: incumbent Dean Pappas, former Peterborough federal NDP candidate Joy Lachica, professional artist Alex Bierk, and social advocate Brian Christoph.
Akapo’s decision not to seek re-election ensures there will be at least one new Town Ward councillor when all is said and done on October 24.
Reflecting on her time in the municipal politics arena, Akapo said while there have been bumps in the road, the experience overall was a good one.
“I feel I’ve been able to accomplish things I’m proud of and this council has done a lot, despite what some of the naysayers say,” she assesses.
“I spent the first year and a half, maybe two years, learning what the job is. Even though you have portfolios, you still need to know a little bit about everything — learning new terminology and processes and procedures. You have to get to know the staff and who to direct questions to.”
COVID-19 also complicated her experience as a first-time councillor, Akapo said.
“None of us planned a global pandemic. You spend the first year and a half learning and then it’s ‘Oh wait, we’re going to change everything you know.'”
Narrowing it down to one word, Akapo said her time at City Hall has been “illuminating”, adding “in both positive and not-so-positive ways.”
“I wasn’t prepared for the politics of politics. I was prepared to go in, do the job, write good policy, make decisions, and move the city forward. I was not prepared for how much time and energy and effort that would take. It was very frustrating. The politics of politics stymies progress.”
“It’s good to have people who have different opinions, but it’s another thing to use what I would call shady mechanisms to push things through. That to me is heartbreaking. I feel if we were able to put that aside, we’d be in a much better place.”
“It wasn’t always focused on best outcomes for the city. Personalities sometimes got in the way of that. I wasn’t prepared for that. It was like ‘I wouldn’t hang out with you on the weekend but we’re both here to do a job, so why don’t we focus on that?’ Often times, that wasn’t the case. That was disappointing.”
Still, said Akapo, this council, “despite some drama,” was able to accomplish “some really good things.” She points to the adoption of the new Official Plan and the Peterborough Transportation Master Plan as evidence of that as well as the passing of “some decent budgets” during the challenging pandemic years.
When she won election in 2018, Akapo became a member of most diverse city council Peterborough has ever had. Led by only the third female mayor in the city’s history, the 11-member council featured four females and two people of colour. While Akapo said such diversity was, and remains, a very good thing for the city, it hasn’t come without some challenging baggage.
“I don’t know if we (women) are held to a higher standard, but I feel we face a lot more criticism than our male counterparts,” she said. “Part of that is a result of who’s leading the charge on what I would consider progressive items and who’s staying the course. Whenever you’re pushing for change, even though people say they want change, it doesn’t come easy, particularly in an institution that is rigid.
“If you’re the one constantly putting yourself out there, you are the face of that change, so people will come to you and share their opinions in favour or against,” Akapo said. “If you’re the one on Twitter — (it’s) myself, Diane (Therrien), Kim (Zippel), and Lesley (Parnell) that are most active on there — people want to engage and you tend to bear the brunt of that. Women, in any sphere, aren’t given as much leeway.”
One advantage that future female members of council will have, Akapo said, is a support system comprised of “more people they can lean on.”
“I’m announcing I’m not running and outlining some of the challenges I’ve faced, but then I’m turning around and saying ‘But you should do it.’ It seems a little bit hypocritical. There are so few of us female or black politicians out there. It was hard for me to find people to talk to or commiserate with (but) they’ll have me, they’ll have Diane, they’ll have Kim. The base of support for them is going to be bigger.”
Unsurprisingly, Akapo is a huge proponent of council term limits being imposed.
“Part of the reason we don’t see new faces is because, as an incumbent, you have a leg up,” she said. “If you have two incumbents (in a ward), it’s hard for other people to get their foot in. That’s not say that continuity and generational institutional knowledge isn’t important, but the world changes and new ideas come out. That needs to be reflected.”
As she now looks forward to new challenges, Akapo wants to make one thing very clear: her decision not to run isn’t based, in whole or in part, on derisive comments aimed at her, either in person and on social media.
“I’m not being run out of council — I’m not letting the haters win,” she said, acknowledging she’s a different person in 2022 than she was just four years ago.
“I’ve changed. My eyes have been opened more. I have a vision of what I want the world to look like but there’s the reality of what the world actually is. I have a better understanding of how things work at the political level.”
“My goal is to create a better world than the one we currently have. Being on council has helped grow my education in that regard. That’s never wasted.”
While she is withdrawing from the political sphere, Akapo wants “to create a better world than the one we currently have.”
“Being on council has helped grow my education in that regard,” she said. “That’s never wasted.”
“Even if I’m not in politics, there’s other ways to create change. I’m refocusing now, but this is definitely not the last of me.”
Statement from Kemi Akapo – April 25, 2022
is a necessary magic
draws a circle around you
i have given enough
– boundaries, McKayla Robbin
From a very young age, I’ve held a strong belief that the world could become a better, more equitable and fairer place for all. I’ve also had an inexplicable internal force driving me to be part of that process towards positive change. That drive has been nurtured by my family and the many communities I’ve been privileged enough to live in. It is this strong belief and drive that led me to run for City Council and your faith in me that led me to be elected as the first Black, openly queer Councillor for the City of Peterborough. I thank you for your faith and trust in me.
I also strongly believe positive change can come about in a multitude of ways. It is, in part, for this reason I have decided not to seek re-election as a Councillor for the City of Peterborough. I know this announcement will come as a disappointment to some, especially those who helped me get elected and who were inspired by me being on Council. However, I am feeling the drive to pursue other approaches to creating a more just, equitable world in which all humans live a good life.
I am proud of the work and contributions I have been able to make to the City during my tenure. I will continue to work hard and strive for positive change until my final day in office.
The past 3 and a half years have taught me a lot, and though I may be leaving office as a City Councillor, I do still believe in the wonderful possibilities that exist for the future of Peterborough. I have a few thoughts and ideas I’d like to share over the coming weeks. I will be sharing them on my website: www.kemiakapo.ca.
Ese pupo, Miigwetch, Thank you, Peterborough.