Mayor Linda Jeffrey has hired a lawyer and local political organizer to help reshape her brand ahead of a 2018 reelection bid.
Although initially stating she would not immediately fill the role following Jim Schembri’s sudden departure last month, Jeffrey has named Jaskaran Singh Sandhu her new press secretary.
Sandhu is a former director of development for the World Sikh Organization on top of being a lawyer, political strategist and organizer for several local campaigns including Liberal MPs Raj Grewal and Sonia Sidhu.
"Mayor Jeffrey came in on a very strong mandate. She has done a lot of what she has promised and now we have two years to make sure we complete the platform of creating a better Brampton," said Sandhu.
Jeffrey, a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister, is beefing up her inner circle as she looks to rebrand an image badly bruised during the first half of her term as the result of an inability to connect with a number of councillors on key issues.
City hall watchers say Jeffrey’s appointment of Sandhu “makes good sense” given his organizational know-how, Liberal party ties and connections to an important South Asian voting base heading into 2018.
“Hiring a prominent Liberal makes sense. It’s just surprising that Jeffrey would fill the communications job so soon especially after she said she wouldn’t,” said Gary Collins, former Brampton Board of Trade CEO.
Jeffrey’s camp told The Guardian that Sandhu, who has also worked on local Ontario PC candidate nomination races, boasts impressive credentials "and just so happened to be available".
Schembri was part of the team that helped Jeffrey win the mayor’s chair in a landslide victory in 2014.
While the mayor’s staff said the decision was “mutual”, Schembri drew criticism for his handling of the mayor’s messaging on contentious issues like mass transit and water fluoridation. One councillor described Schembri’s communications approach as "inappropriate" and "out of line" at times.
Schembri also left his post amid mounting criticism levelled at Jeffrey for the number of staffers she employs.
At some point this year, city staff will report back to council comparing Jeffrey’s office budget and staffing complement to other municipalities.
For 2017, Jeffrey’s operating budget is projected at $846,000, including $653,118 for staff salaries.
Some of Jeffrey’s most vocal critics, among them Coun. John Sprovieri, questioned how the mayor can justify employing six staffers in her office in light of a massive overhaul of the city’s bureaucracy in recent months.
With respect to her office complement, Jeffrey responded that she needs help running Canada’s ninth largest city.