Mayor Sam Sullivan tackled tough issues

By Carlito Pablo, Georgia Straight
Free, though not by choice, from the rigours of an election, outgoing Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan confesses that he misses the rough-and-tumble of the sport called politics.
“I was suited for it in a certain way, in that I am pretty well immune to criticism,” Sullivan told the Georgia Straight in an interview at a downtown café.
In between sips, the long-time civic politician also let on that he still meets some people on the street who tell him that they want “to get involved in my campaign, and I just have to tell them, ‘Actually, there won’t be a campaign for me.’ ”

He had wanted to be at centre stage when the city opens its doors to the 2010 Olympics. And according to him, “much of the world” that saw the first quadriplegic mayor to accept an Olympic flag at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, had expected him to be there as well.
Sullivan said had he not lost the mayoral nomination of his party–the Non-Partisan Association–he could have played on this expectation as a key theme in his campaign for another term.
Sullivan had also looked forward to a harvest of votes from the various ethnic communities in the city, whose languages he had tried to learn and speak in phrases that he described as a show of “respect”. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to demonstrate how powerful that was,” he said.
As he counts his last days in office as mayor, Sullivan is content with the thought that his single-mindedness has somehow changed the city.
“I’m not interested in championing things that everybody wants,” he said. “I’m happy to support them, but there’s no challenge to that: ‘Let’s do what everybody wants.’ That’s an easy no-brainer. It’s the things that people don’t want but they should want that I’m more interested [in].”
Sullivan recalled that in most of his 15 years on council–three as mayor–density was a bad word. And so he initiated EcoDensity, a program that seeks ways to allow more people to live in the city in an environmentally sustainable manner.
“I hear…people say, ‘I’m not against density, but I just don’t want density here,’ ” he said. “It used to be, ‘It’s too dense, it’s bad, we don’t want density.’ People could get away saying that before I became mayor. I never hear that anymore. By just simply changing that is a huge victory to me.”
After opening up a city conversation on density, Sullivan put his mind to the question of how people should live in a denser city. For that, he came out with Project Civil City, a program that deals with public disorder.
“Some people wanted to have the ‘broken windows’ theory,” he said. “The Project Civil City, I call it more the ‘broken communities’ theory. It’s not about fixing broken windows. It’s about fixing broken communities.”
Will Vancouver have seen the last of Sullivan when a new mayor steps into office?
Sullivan said that he is in the sensitive phases of negotiations with future employers for a job that would allow him to continue advocacy on the two major initiatives he considers to be his legacies: density and public disorder.
“I’ve taken the toughest issues, the ones that people have the hardest time coming to grips with and taking them head-on, and tried to change things from the inside,” he said. “I went into City Hall thinking that I would find the power to make changes in society, and when I got into the heart of the institution I recognized that the power was actually outside–with people that advocate, and everything from the philosophers who set the boundaries of the discourse of public policy to those people who do research.”