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Catching up: A portrait of the Vancouver Rahm Emanuel

September 7th, 2010 · 23 Comments

Other blogs posted links to the Vancouver magazine story I did about Mike Magee Mayor Gregor Robertson’s chief of staff, back in August while I was on vacation.

So you may have seen this already, but just in case, here it is.

Magee is definitely the strongest, most go-to chief of staff I can remember seeing or hearing about at city hall. Although Daniel Fontaine worked closely with Sam Sullivan (he was actually the one who came up with the concept EcoDensity) and they were a tightly co-ordinated team, he was never the deal-maker and power-people wrangler that Magee is.

Geoff Meggs, now a councillor, told me while I was researching this piece that the chief of staff roles were really divided up among three different people — him, Stephen Learey, and Vanessa Geary — while Larry Campbell was in office. Magee has really centralized the chief of staff role to himself.

Janet Fraser in Philip Owen’s office saw her role as completely different from what we see now in chiefs of staff. And Gordon Campbell relied on Ken Dobell for advice and muscle, not his staff.

Some might see that as a good thing — makes the mayor’s office far more effective. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next non-Vision administration, whenever that arrives, finds someone similar for the role. But it obviously has its downside. People wonder who’s really running the show. And some don’t like Magee’s Rahm Emanuel (the famously abrasive Barack Obama staffer) style.

I have to say I honestly don’t know, when it comes to who’s in control. In the Campbell administration, I could get a sense of who was pulling the wagon in which direction: sometimes it was Jim Green, pushing for a particular project; sometimes it was Geoff Meggs, strategizing about the best way to carry out a particular plan; but often it was Larry Campbell, for good or bad.

With the Sullivan-Fontaine pair administration, there was no mistaking that it was Sam Sullivan taking the city off in particular directions. You knew what his passions were and the way he did business.

But with Magee and Robertson, they’ve been aligned for a long time and have very similar values, making it hard to tease apart the differences.

As well, Gregor doesn’t particularly like talking to reporters, me or anyone, so it’s hard to get a sense of how his head works and which parts of city strategy are his.

I try to figure out who holds the reins of power by checking with people on who they call to solve a city hall problem. That’s usually the test. By and large, what I hear is either city manager Penny Ballem or Magee. But not always. I continue to collect data.

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