The past few years have been a political whirlwind for park-board commissioner Allan De Genova and his daughter Melissa—and this year could be the family’s most challenging yet.
In the summer of 2005, Melissa, now 25 and recently married, was the volunteer coordinator in Mayor Sam Sullivan’s campaign for the Non-Partisan Association’s mayoral nomination, in which he was victorious over former B.C. Liberal deputy premier Christy Clark. Melissa then worked on Sullivan’s successful run for the city’s top job.
However, Sullivan suspended Melissa’s five-term park-board-veteran father from the NPA caucus on May 28, 2006, after he told the Georgia Straight that then–NPA park-board chair Heather Holden should abstain from voting on aquarium-related issues.
In a phone interview with the Straight on January 2, Melissa said she will be running for a park-board nomination from Vision Vancouver ahead of the November civic election. “At the end of the day, after Sam had won and he suspended my dad from the NPA, I guess I was kind of left out in the cold,” Melissa said. “I felt that as soon as they suspended Al, they suspended me too.”
Sullivan did not return calls by the Straight’s deadline.
Melissa’s sister, Emily, worked with Vision during the 2005 civic election. Melissa and their mother, Wendy Field, joined the party at its inaugural annual general meeting in October 2006.
Allan De Genova told the Straight on December 13 that he will be angling for one of the 10 city council seats and will not return to the park board. He said Vision could not have a “better soldier” than Melissa. “You couldn’t get somebody as good as her to work as hard as she does,” he said. “She has no hidden agenda, but she certainly is very driven to make things happen.”¦If she says she is going to do something, she will deliver on her word, and that is what I like about her.”
Vancouver’s political history has seen few father-daughter combos. However, Melissa insists she has reasons compelling her to seek office that go beyond the family name.
“It’s not about stepping into his [Al’s] shoes, because those are some pretty big shoes to fill,” she said. “I think that I have seen many parks boards throughout the years my dad has been on the parks board. Unfortunately, I have seen some people using the parks board as a steppingstone to high office, and they don’t consider the impact of their decisions on the parks board. I am not one of those people.”
Melissa said she wants to push initiatives that benefit communities and help youth at risk, such as breakfast and food-bank programs currently implemented by the city’s community centres.
She praised former school-board trustee Andrea Reimer, who was 28 when she was elected on the Vancouver Green slate in the 2002 civic election. The two women crossed paths at the Women’s Campaign School, which Reimer chaired and which is a project of the nonpartisan Vancouver-based Canadian Women Voters Congress. The school aims to address the gender and age bias in politics.
“She [Reimer] is actually one of the people who inspired me to run,” Melissa said. “I just think the world of her. She is a wonderful person. I encouraged her to run also in 2008 and told her that she has my vote.”
Reimer, executive director at the Wilderness Committee, told the Straight it is “great” to be called an inspiration. “Melissa was one of our students this year,” Reimer said, adding that she is still undecided about running in November. “I asked her if she had ever thought about running and she said, ”˜Everyone tells me I’m too young.’ That just totally pissed me off. I said there is no such thing. Young people deserve representation as much as any other people. I told her I was elected at 28, and surely she could be elected at whatever age she chose to run and that she should just do it.”
Reimer said women make up “somewhere between” 20 and 30 percent of politicians at all three levels of government in Canada. She quipped that elected politicians are usually “white guys between the ages of 50 and 70”.
“If you break it down, 18- to 25-year-olds make up a little under 20 percent of the population,” she said. “Only three percent of elected officials are between those ages across the country, which is stunning. To think they would have such bad representation.”
Melissa De Genova said no date has yet been set for Vision’s nominations. However, the party’s AGM is on Monday (January 14) at the Chinese Cultural Centre, where, she said, she will renew her party membership.