Fans of writer Malcolm Gladwell probably chuckled when former media manager Kirk LaPointe made a production of being the "underdog" in the Vancouver mayoral race.
Gladwell's latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, reveals that the underdog often has advantages others don't recognize.
It's apparent when you see how some B.C. success stories beat long odds to rise to the top.
Jimmy Pattison grew up so poor in the Depression that he cleaned the inside of pianos to help put food on the table.
Irving Barber was a high-school dropout who built one of B.C.'s most successful forest companies. Another high-school dropout, Bob Rennie, became B.C.'s condo king.
Wally Oppal was raised by a single mother in Duncan but still became a B.C. Court of Appeal justice and attorney general.
Premiers such as Bill Vander Zalm, Gordon Campbell, and Christy Clark overcame extreme hardship in childhood on their way to political success.
The same is true for Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who were raised by single mothers.
Similarly, LaPointe came from a hardscrabble background, which has toughened him up for the race to come.
Incumbent mayors rarely lose
On paper, it looks like LaPointe doesn't have a chance.
Incumbent mayors were reelected in every municipality in the Lower Mainland in 2011 with the exception of Langley Township.
In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan captured 76 percent of the votes. In Surrey, Dianne Watts won 80 percent support. Richard Walton in the District of North Vancouver did even better, earning 81.5 percent of the votes.
Vancouver's Gregor Robertson posted one of the poorest performances among incumbent mayors, only winning 53.8 percent of the votes.
The last two-term Vancouver mayor to lose a reelection bid was Jack Volrich, who was defeated by Mike Harcourt in 1980.
So it's legitimate for LaPointe to describe himself as an underdog.
Incumbent mayors do lose from time to time. Witness Barbara Sharpe's defeat in the City of North Vancouver in 2005. Or Doug McCallum's loss in Surrey the same year.
LaPointe's media connections are extensive
LaPointe is an underdog even though his communications are being handled by a former Globe and Mail reporter who's married to a member of the Vancouver Sun editorial board.
There's no indication that this marital connection has conferred undue benefits on LaPointe. But the NPA may have the advantage in this department by hiring someone who does communications full-time over Vision's communications manager, a lobbyist who in the past worked for CBC in Ontario.
LaPointe is also an underdog whose party has B.C.'s head of operations for Glacier Media on its board of directors. Once again, there's no evidence that LaPointe's candidacy has benefited from this connection to the company that owns the Vancouver Courier, the West Ender, and Business in Vancouver.
LaPointe, a former managing editor of the Vancouver Sun, is an underdog who has a good relationship with many journalists going into this election campaign. This includes the Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee, who praised LaPointe on his Linked-in profile in 2008. Whether that makes Lee tougher on LaPointe remains to be seen.
LaPointe is an underdog with a son who works at the Tyee. Once again, there's no evidence that this has resulted in any preferential treatment for the NPA candidate. But it's safe to assume that LaPointe has a decent knowledge of how that publication operates.
He's an underdog whose wife worked as a reporter and has a PhD.
He's also an underdog with former students working as journalists. And he's an underdog who's been on panels in the community with the editor of the Georgia Straight. (Yes folks, that's me.)
Perhaps most importantly, LaPointe is an underdog who's a talented writer with extensive broadcasting experience and a deep understanding of social media.
He's also a well-read underdog, and I would be shocked if he weren't aware of Gladwell's work.
Getting back to Malcolm Gladwell
So you can see that LaPointe brings some knowledge, connections, and skills to the campaign that his opponent, Robertson, is lacking.
I've commented in the past about how LaPointe writes engaging blog posts, whereas Robertson's office issues wooden statements.
David and Goliath highlights the types of advantages that so-called underdogs bring to a fight that aren't always noticed by the public.
I can see why Vision Vancouver appears to be a bit more concerned about LaPointe than its last mayoral opponent, Suzanne Anton.
Perhaps it's because Vision's backroom operators have read Gladwell's book and know that underdogs are capable of achieving surprising results.