Vancouver's next mayor?

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"I'm in," exclaimed Gregor Robertson Sunday before about 200 boisterous supporters of his candidacy for the Vision Vancouver nomination as the city's next mayor.

The NDP MLA (Fairview) told the crowd assembled in the Joyce Whalley Learning Centre at the Vancouver Museum on Chestnut St. that he had made his decision following e-mails, calls, and personal appeals to step into the race.Robertson takes aim at incumbent Sam Sullivan, widely viewed as vulnerable after a disappointing term marred by a lengthy garbage strike. As mayor, Sullivan accomplished nothing much, and left a lot undone.

One incident propelled Robertson to take on two probable challengers for the Vision Vancouver nomination, as well as the right-of-centre, Non-Partisan Association mayor (already facing a re-nomination challenge from NPA Councilor Peter Ladner).

Three blocks from a shelter that was full, and nine blocks from city hall, Darrell Mickasko, a homeless man, burned to death trying to keep warm. That did it for me, said Robertson, if I have a leadership role to play, as people had suggested, it was time to step up, and see that Vancouver finally address a fixable problem, that has been neglected for too long: homelessness.

"Collectively, we are letting this take place, in a city with enormous resources, with compassionate citizens" he pointed out. Providing temporary shelter spaces was not a solution, Robertson said, people needed permanent housing, and the city had to set targets for reducing homelessness. He cited Portland, Oregon as an example; it has successfully reduced the numbers of people sleeping rough.

Robertson set four goals for Vancouver. One: to defeat homelessness, and promote an affordable housing boom, by bringing together financial institutions, developers, senior levels of government, social activists, and trade unions. Two: Robertson, who made his reputation running a sustainable business (Happy Planet fruit juices), sees greening Vancouver as his natural platform, and a way to build a better, stronger city. Three: he wants to promote creativity, not just in the arts, but, across a range of activities, from NGOs to small businesses. Four: Robertson wants to improve the quality of daily life, ensuring that school age children are free to move around the city unaccompanied. He promises a personal security agenda that deals with poverty, and other root causes of addiction, and violent crime.

The launch was a professional event. Green and blue posters and signs decorated the room and green buttons bearing the gregor08 logo were handed out at the door. Strategic Communications president Bob Penner is a part of the campaign. He pointed out that Gregor needed 5,000 signatures to become a candidate for the nomination. Communications whiz Marcella Munro, a one-time Action Canada anti-NAFTA campaigner, and CBC public affairs journalist, opened the meeting as MC.

Two of the four sitting Vision city councilors are supporting Gregor Robertson and were present, Heather Deal who introduced him, and Tim Stevenson. A third, George Chow turned up but says he is neutral, while the fourth, Raymond Louie, wants the nomination himself. Robertson also has support from CUPE local 15 president, Paul Faoro, whose members bore the brunt of the mismanagement of the garbage strike.

Though Robertson never mentioned the games, the 2010 Olympics are very much on everyone's mind in Vancouver. The mayor elected in November will welcome the world, and especially have to explain to the world media, why nothing has been done about the social and human disaster that has been taking place in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. U.S. media legend Dan Rather was in town recently, filming the homeless and destitute crowded onto the sidewalks of the Downtown Eastside, blocks from condominium towers selling apartment space at $1,750 per square foot.

The contrast between the physical beauty of the city, and its opulence, and one of the saddest, most desolate human environments in North America, is unlikely to be missed by media outlets. Few will pass it up as a story, and it is the negative picture of the "other Vancouver" that will play out around the world, shaming its residents.If Robertson looks like he has a genuine plan to help out the homeless, he may well sweep the election.

Robertson is trying to follow in the steps of three other centrist candidates who defeated the local NPA machine, and became mayor: Art Phillips, Mike Harcourt, and Larry Campbell. He hopes to run with the support of COPE, the left grouping, whose lone councilor, David Cadman has called for a unity candidate, but has not ruled out running himself.

Gregor Robertson is new to politics. Three years ago he was taking his first uncertain steps, meeting the public, and speaking poorly at fundraisers.

His campaign launch on Sunday showed how much progress he has made as a political performer. As champion of angry, Cambie St. small businesses, wiped out, because rapid transit construction took away their ability to welcome customers to their premises, Robertson has generated a following in the city.

Many think Vancouver needs a new mayor, and we may well have found one in Gregor Robertson.

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