For those who haven’t picked up on it yet, I am doing some civic-political coverage for the Globe and Mail.
I had a story in last week with the mayor’s thoughts about his recent defeat and his future. It’s not on their website because of a technical glitch so I’ll post it here. (Sorry, I should have a URL. My IT department is working on bringing me up to speed on these things.)
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Outgoing Vancouver mayor says his dramatic political career is over because he got lazy
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, the man who went through the most dramatic political roller-coaster ride of any B.C. politician in recent history, blames himself for his career’s stunning end.
But he says he didn’t lose his party’s mayoral nomination to fellow council member Peter Ladner because people didn’t like his challenging policies, his role in the city’s three-month civic strike, his personality, or for any of the reasons others have put forward.
Instead, he said, the main problem was that he got lazy.
“Everybody was complacent, including me,” said Mr. Sullivan, who talked at length about his defeat and future.
Mr. Sullivan said that instead of spending time before the June Non-Partisan Association vote phoning his 1,800 supporters, he went to Hong Kong on an official visit. Since Mr. Ladner had only 1,300 party signups, the odds were against him.
“There was a widespread feeling that I was going to win. And I even believed my own press clippings. I’m definitely the author of my loss,” said the mayor, looking healthier and more relaxed than he has in months.
In the 2005 election, Mr. Sullivan rose from being a long-serving but obscure councillor to the man who brought his party back from the dead after it was nearly wiped out in 2002. His inspiring personal story of rebuilding his life after he was paralyzed in a ski accident helped propel him to his party’s mayoral candidacy, and then the mayor’s chair. Along the way, he developed a reputation as a scrappy fighter capable of pulling off unlikely victories against local Goliaths.
Once elected mayor, he brought in a set of ambitious new policies with catchy names, such as Project Civil City, EcoDensity and CAST, a program to provide legal drug substitutes for cocaine addicts. The public also got full exposure to his unusual style, a blend of philosopher and idea-charged mad scientist.
Mr. Sullivan said he doesn’t regret any of those controversial initiatives. He believes it’s the job of a politician to act as though each term is his last and to do what he really believes in, not what it will take to get re-elected.
“Whenever I win, I always go through this little ritual where I accept that I’m going to lose the next time,” – a process Mr. Sullivan compared to the imaginary “suicide” that he went through when he killed off the old Sam Sullivan, the one who thought his life was over after being paralyzed, and created the new one.
With that in mind, he pushed for radical new approaches, knowing that not everyone would be on board and that the next election would be a squeaker – as it should be, he said.
“The politician who wins by a landslide wins in disgrace,” Mr. Sullivan said. “If you win by that much, what did you give up? You had all that political capital and could have moved society more the way it should have but you blew it.”
Mr. Sullivan thinks he had a good chance of winning this November’s election, because all his projects would have started to bear fruit. In spite of that, he doesn’t blame Mr. Ladner for challenging him.
“Nothing’s unfair in politics,” he said.
But he does say that Mr. Ladner (along with the other mayoral candidate, Gregor Robertson) doesn’t have anywhere near the appeal in the ethnic communities that he does. Mr. Sullivan said that when he goes out to ethnic events, he has almost “rock-star status.”
And, when asked what he thinks about Mr. Ladner’s chances in the coming election, he says with a wry look, “I hope he does it.”
As for his future, Mr. Sullivan, 48, said he hasn’t decided on that yet. He’s using the free time he now has, in spite of the still-busy mayoral schedule, to go to movies, read books and even study mathematics.
He says it’s time for him to come up with something completely new and different than the disability work or politics he’s done so far.
He wants to do what really interests him. He loves learning, whether it’s Chinese from books or ideas about the world from the people who come to the discussions he holds.
But for now, he said he’s going to concentrate on his last four months as mayor. There’s still so much to do.
Credit: SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL