New deputy leader of Sunderland City Council hopes to follow in dad's footsteps
The new deputy leader of Sunderland City Council thinks Labour has already laid the groundwork to reverse its electoral decline in the city.
A bruising night at the polls earlier this month saw the party cling on to power in Wearside, but with its majority slashed to just five councillors.
But after surveying the damage, Claire Rowntree, who was propelled into the local authority’s second most senior position last week (May 19), claims green shoots are already visible.
She said: “There’s different communities across the city and we’ve got to look back at where we’ve lost seats and how to bring them back to Labour and bring back their faith in us.
“It’s about listening to the communities so they tell us what’s lacking and what they think they need to see from us and we’re getting a lot better at that.
“I think the difference over the past year is people haven’t been able to be as they would want to be and that has affected how councillors have been able to go about their business, but now things are getting back to normal we can get back out there.”
Cllr Rowntree replaced serving cabinet secretary Paul Stewart as deputy leader at the city council’s annual meeting to kick off the new municipal year.
Cllr Stewart had stepped into the role last year (2020) following the removal of incumbent Michael Mordey from the position.
Cllr Rowntree has now become only the second woman to hold the role at the city council, following the example of Florence Anderson, who became Wearside’s first female deputy council leader in 2008.
Both councillors also represented the city’s Hetton ward, with Cllr Rowntree adding it ‘obviously produces strong community leadership’.
As well as describing her new position as an ‘honour and a privilege’ however, she added it was ‘bittersweet’, following the death of her father and political mentor Geoff Walker, formerly cabinet member for Healthy City, earlier this year (2021).
She said: “It’s really difficult, it’s something I would have loved to be able to share with him, so obviously it’s a bit bittersweet in that sense.
“My dad served the city well and I wish he had been here to share it with me.
“We shared a lot in common in our politics, we were both advocates of social justice, fairness and equality.”
She added: “Dad was a mentor, politically, as well as my dad, and if I can go just some way to being the community leader he was, I will be happy.”