Carla has youth on her side

AT the age of 27 Carla Lockhart is Craigavon’s youngest ever mayor.

In her coming year in office she hopes to use her youth, energy and enthusiasm to drive the borough forward.

Carla was controversially elected as mayor after Sinn Fein’s nominee Mairead O’Dowd topped the initial vote, with the borough solicitor called in to confirm a second vote could be taken.

Reflecting on her election as mayor, Carla said: “Looking back on the process, ultimately what happened on the night of the election had happened three times previously where the lowest person was eliminated and a second vote was taken.

“I know legal advice was taken from the borough solicitor and the senior member officer at Belfast City Council.

“There is no law on it so custom and practice comes into place.”

As regards powersharing Carla said: “Our party have, over the years, taken a big step in terms of working with Sinn Fein.”

Concerning power sharing on Craigavon Council she said: “The reasons were outlined by our group leader as to why we couldn’t support a Sinn Fein mayor.”

She added: “I’ve been elected as mayor for 2012/2013. It’s about moving onwards and upwards from here.

“We’re elected to serve rate payers and give best value for money. I’ll do all in my power as will the rest of council to ensure it’s spent in the best manner.”

Carla was born in Aughnacloy and developed an interest in politics from an early age.

She said: “I’ve always had an interest in politics since I was knee high. My family would be quite involved in politics. My uncle ran for election many years ago and just missed out by a few votes.

“I’ve followed it very closely down through the years. I followed Dr Paisley and Peter Robinson.

“In fourth year I spent a week with Peter and Iris Robinson at their home. At that stage I shadowed them up to Stormont. I thought then that I’d love to be a politician.

“I was a member of the Young Democrats from I was probably 12 or 13. I’ve been treasurer of the DUP for many years.

“I had really enjoyed getting involved with debates at school. I was always good at expressing my views.”

Carla did a business degree in Jordanstown and when she graduated she toyed with the idea of going into HR.

She said: “I was open to suggestion. I heard there was a position available with Lurgan MLA Stephen Moutray. I went there on a three month trial.

“In October of that year Councillor Fergie Dawson died very suddenly. I was selected by the DUP Association to be their co-option.

“Whenever I first said I’ll let my name go forward I was told there would only be a couple of meetings a month. I soon learnt there’s much more to be a councillor than that. Whilst it’s a part time job, you could spend every waking hour at it.

“Apart from being elected as mayor, one of the most satisfying moments for me was when I went before the electorate and they ratified my position on council.”

Carla added: “My family are very proud and they’ve been a good support to me. They help me out where they can.”

Carla has an older sister and a younger brother, neither of whom are involved in politics. However, the three siblings do strike a mean tune and Carla regularly gets together with her brother and sister to form a Christian band known as The Lockharts. The trio are the star draw at many local churches.

Carla said: “As a Christian I’m very involved with the Free Presbyterian Church. I’ve been involved in youth fellowship and have done a few mission trips - twice to Kenya and once in Poland.”

As well as singing, Carla’s hobbies include walking, running and shopping - sometimes all at once! She admitted to being a bit of a shopaholic, but said she hadn’t any items in her collection of clothing and jewellery to rival the mayoral chain.

If Carla is in attendance at the civic centre visitors will spy her Mini in the mayor’s reserved parking space. She’s no intentions of letting the car go, despite her lofty position.

She said: “The Mini is staying. I even had a Mini-themed wedding and used it as one of the wedding cars. I love Minis and see no reason to change it.”

Carla married Rodney last August, but little did she know when exchanging vows that just 10 months later she’d be sworn in as mayor.

She said: “Rodney is a quantity surveyor. He supports behind the scenes. He’s a quiet individual. We’ve been together eight years so he’s got used to politics.”

With Carla taking the title ‘Madame Mayor’, Rodney’s official title is ‘Consort’.

Looking ahead to her year as mayor, Carla said: “I want to be a hands on mayor. I want to meet community groups and I still want to do case work.

“I love meeting people and getting to know them and trying to help where I can. I want to try and help our community groups tap into more funding.

“Tourism is something we’ll need to tap into as well. If you don’t live in Lurgan there’s places you probably aren’t aware of. We need to showcase what we have.”

She added: “I aim to support young people, encourage them to take a role in their community and really take ownership and leadership of their area. I suppose I have youth on my side. I was 22 when I was co-opted onto council.”

Carla also hopes to recognise unsung heroes, support local charities, encourage women to get involved in politics, and most importantly serve the entire community.

Her distribution of tickets for the Queen’s Garden Party at Stormont speaks volumes of her desire to involve communities.

She said: “It was a great honour to be able to distribute 50 tickets for the garden party to people with disabilities, people in need and community heroes. I haven’t given any to my family or family circle. It’s an event for the community.”

Of her aims, Carla continued: “I want to lobby the government minister to help improve the infrastructure in Lurgan.

“I would love to attract investment and reduce unemployment and make the borough a more attractive area to live, work and trade.”

She concluded: “To be the first citizen of 92,000 people is an awesome responsibility. I want to use this as a year to showcase Lurgan, Portadown and Craigavon.

“Given that I’m a young, energetic and enthusiastic, I believe I can do that.

“It’s time to start thinking outside the box. If you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got.

“Society is changing. We need to be sharper as a council and make sure we keep up to date.

“We still need traditional thinking as well. It’s about having a good mix.”