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Vision's Three Would-Be Kings

Vying to run for mayor are a mixed bunch with diverse slices of Vancouver.

By Monte Paulsen 3 Apr 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Monte Paulsen is investigative editor of The Tyee. He welcomes e-mail and invites respectful comment in the forum below.

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Clockwise from left: Gregor Robertson, Al De Genova, Raymond Louie.

Voters won't go to the polls until November, but the contest to become the mayoral candidate for Vancouver's newest political party is already as fiercely fought -- and likely as expensive -- as entire municipal elections run elsewhere in the province.

All three candidates for the Vision Vancouver nomination are experienced politicians born and bred in Vancouver. But that's where the similarities end.

It's an only-in-Vancouver field that includes a Chinese candidate who grew up in an Italian neighbourhood, a Swiss-Italian candidate who learned to speak some Chinese in order to sell restaurant supplies, and a former organic farmer who -- saddled with too many unsold carrots -- wound up becoming B.C.'s smoothie king.

Raymond Louie

City Coun. Raymond Louie is Vision's veteran elected official. He was first elected to Vancouver City Council in 2002 as a member of the Council of Progressive Electors. Together with then-mayor Larry Campbell, he left COPE to form Vision Vancouver, and was re-elected in 2005.

If elected, Louie would be Vancouver's first mayor of Chinese descent. Louie's parents immigrated to Canada in the 1950s and ran a bakery on Commercial Drive. He grew up in East Vancouver and worked for a mailing firm and a newspaper company before becoming an organizer for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union.

"We know from exit poll data that there is something of a block of Chinese voters," said SFU political scientist Kennedy Stewart. "Between 65 and 70 per cent voted for Sullivan in 2005," Stewart said.

"What we don't know is how that is going to play out for a candidate of Chinese ancestry in a Canadian city," Stewart continued, noting that African-American candidates routinely carry heavily black U.S. cities by wide margins.

Louie launched his mayoral campaign at a Chinatown restaurant. His campaign team includes a dozen or more "membership organizers" responsible for recruiting supporters within Vancouver's ethnic communities. And his web site is published in six languages -- none of them French.

"I have a much wider connection to the city than do the other challengers," Louie said. "I've worked with business, non-profit and labour leaders. I've worked with East Indian, Italian, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese and First Nations communities."

In addition to signing up "thousands" of new members, Louie expects to win the support of many of Vision's existing 1,200 members. He is running on four key issues: housing affordability, public safety, affordable public transportation, and quality services for low taxes.

"I have experience running this city," Louie said. "I think Vision members will vote for me because of my integrity and my consistent efforts over five and a half years."

Also, he is the only one of the candidates who pledges to run as a councillor should he fail in his mayoral bid.

"I was committed to Vision Vancouver long before this mayoral nomination contest, and I will be committed to Vision after the nominee is selected," Louie said. "That's not something I've seen from either of the other two challengers."

Gregor Robertson

Gregor Robertson is a fifth-generation British Columbian. He grew up in Vancouver, operated an organic farm in the Fraser Valley, and co-founded the Happy Planet juice company before being elected to the provincial legislature in 2005 as the MLA for Vancouver-Fairview.

Robertson's mayoral bid is the first public flexing of what may be a new political muscle in Vancouver, a coalition of business leaders committed to economic, social and environmental sustainability. This community minded group has increasingly found itself at odds with the business-first agenda put forth by the Vancouver Board of Trade.

"These businesses have long been significant contributors to Vancouver's economy and social fabric, but have only recently become significant political voices within the city," Robertson said.

Robertson has already signed up more than 200 volunteers, and that team hopes to turn out as many as 5,000 new Vision Vancouver members for the June 15 nomination meeting.

"I got elected as an MLA by appealing to voters across the political spectrum," Robertson said. "I attracted the traditional left vote, the small-g green vote, the small business vote. My focus then and now is to build the broadest possible coalition of progressive voters."

Robertson's campaign is focused on four themes: ending homelessness, transforming Vancouver into "the greenest city in the world," expanding the city's arts and culture economy, and ensuring public safety.

His "greenest city" plan includes becoming a carbon-neutral city. Robertson notes that he was working on sustainability issues long before other politicians tacked the word "eco" onto their development plans. "It's great that everyone is talking about sustainability," he said. "It's even more important that we all start walking our talk."

When confronted on his lack of city hall experience, Robertson replied, "If experience within Vancouver City Hall is the key to success, then why are we witnessing such a disastrous term as mayor by Sam Sullivan?"

Allan De Genova

Al De Genova grew up in South Vancouver and began his career selling restaurant supplies in Chinatown. He's sold real estate for Sutton Realty since 1992.

De Genova joined the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) in 1990 and three years later ran for Vancouver Parks Board, where he served for 15 years. He was widely credited for helping to elect then-councillor Sam Sullivan to the mayor's office in 2002, but left the NPA after Sullivan banned him from the party's caucus.

De Genova did not return The Tyee's phone calls, and missed several telephone interviews scheduled by his campaign staff.

His campaign has three themes, according to his web site: environment, housing and homelessness, and "meeting the needs of seniors."

As an NPA stalwart, De Genova is not expected to draw the support of many existing Vision members. Rather, his route to the nomination will lay in overwhelming the June 15 nomination meeting by signing up more than 5,000 new party members.

De Genova has the endorsement of Vision Vancouver co-founder Larry Campbell. But Campbell has proven himself a promiscuous endorser, having previously promised this year's blessing to both Coun. Louie and Finance Minister Carole Taylor (who decided not to run). Campbell sat alone at De Genova's launch party, and was not introduced from the podium.

De Genova kicked off his campaign with a speech at the Italian Cultural Centre in East Vancouver.

"Most of you know that for my five terms on park board I was elected as an NPA candidate," he told his launch party crowd. "And now I'm running with Vision Vancouver. Some people might be surprised by my choice. But people who really know me well say, 'It makes perfect sense.'

"They know I can work with business, with labour, with First Nations and with all of the diverse communities that make this city great. And that places me exactly in the centre of what can be a pretty strange political spectrum here in Vancouver."

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