Crowded mayoral race creates room for COPE

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      SFU political scientist Kennedy Stewart credits park-board commissioner Allan De Genova with throwing a lifeline to the city’s left by declaring he will seek the mayoral nomination with Vision Vancouver. However, Stewart didn’t attach nearly as much significance to NPA councillor Peter Ladner’s recent political maneouverings.

      “De Genova has revived the left in the city when it was just about dead,” Stewart told the Georgia Straight. “COPE [Coalition of Progressive Electors] has gone from goat to go-to party.”

      Stewart said De Genova is undertaking a “reverse takeover” of Vision, the party that emerged in 2005 following a much-publicized split within the more left-leaning COPE. Stewart said he agrees with lone COPE councillor David Cadman’s comments, in a February 5 Straight interview, that Vision “is a party that is ripe for takeover by the Liberals”.

      Stewart said Ladner’s move to challenge the NPA board to remove incumbency protection—possibly so he can take a run at the mayor’s office himself—will not change the dynamic all that much on election day. (Ladner was scheduled to speak at the February 13 NPA board meeting, after Straight press time, at the downtown offices of Borden Ladner Gervais.)

      De Genova, a five-term park-board veteran, is a good friend of Liberal senator and former COPE mayor Larry Campbell. Campbell has openly come out in support of De Genova—whom Mayor Sam Sullivan suspended from the NPA caucus after 18 years there—ahead of Coun. Raymond Louie. (Louie, who left COPE to join Vision along with Campbell, former COPE councillor Jim Green, and current Vision councillor Tim Stevenson, has still not ruled out his own mayoral bid.)

      “And it is Vision’s own fault,” Stewart said of De Genova’s run. “They started this new party. It was just a bunch of councillors, and they had an opportunity these past few years to grow it and give it a real grassroots base, and they didn’t do that. They didn’t increase their membership and they didn’t do much community outreach. It was a small group of people running the party.”

      Vision has had two well-attended AGMs since the break with COPE, but Stewart said Green’s loss to Sullivan in the 2005 race for the city’s top job left a power vacuum. In a phone interview on February 8, De Genova would only tell the Straight he had signed up lots of members to his bid, including about 300 delivered at a Vision pub night in Kitsilano on February 5.

      “All I will say is they are signing up in droves,” De Genova said. “There are lots.”

      So far, De Genova is the stand-alone Vision mayoral candidate, with both Louie and Vancouver-Fairview NDP MLA Gregor Robertson still undecided.

      “If there’s one thing that federal Liberals can do, it is win nominations,” Stewart said. “I bet you’ll see De Genova sign up over 2,000 people over the next few months. Nobody will be able to match that.”

      Stewart said there is “a real possibility that De Genova could take over Vision”.

      “Especially if Gregor Robertson waits until June to get out [and declare] or whatever, or April,” he said. “Raymond Louie has had his chance, and they have all just waited too long. De Genova took the initiative away from them. If De Genova captures Vision, I don’t think the NDPers are going to stick around and do the work for him. So that means he has captured something that is empty. What happens? Who becomes the left party? It’s COPE.”

      So far, Cadman has not thrown his hat in the ring, but Stewart said the lay of the land favours the two-term councillor now more than ever.

      “If Cadman is smart enough to see that, then I put my money on COPE.”

      Cadman said he is being approached “everywhere” around the city and told Vision and COPE they must find a way to work together to avoid a split in the left. Cadman also called for a unified slate at Vision’s inaugural AGM in October 2006.

      “I think, very clearly, most of those people are going to say, ”˜Okay, if Al De Genova is where Vision is moving, we’re going to have to find a progressive alternative to run for mayor,’ ” Cadman said. “I think this is a party that is ripe for takeover by the Liberals. I think that is what is playing out right now. If that is the case, then I don’t think there is much of a basis for unity with COPE.”

      In a February 7 phone interview, Stevenson told the Straight he sees no danger that De Genova can take Vision “too far to the right by being there”.

      “But I think it does raise a whole slew of questions as to what our values are and where we lie,” Stevenson said. “I look at us as a pretty centrist party or centre-left party, and certainly the fact that he is associated with the NPA—and seemingly quite happy about that association for many years—means that he is going to bring a perspective to the party that we are going to have to grapple with.”