He will always be remembered as a Vancouver mayor, but Sam Sullivan says he’s not the same politician he was back when he ruled City Hall.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Sullivan outlined personal change since then that suggests residents of the provincial riding of Vancouver-False Creek, which covers most of downtown, will meet a Version 2.0 of Mr. Sullivan as he tries to win their votes in the May 14 election.
Earlier this week, Mr. Sullivan won the B.C. Liberal nomination, fending off a strong challenge from two-term former MLA Lorne Mayencourt by 273 votes to 202.
The winning candidate says he re-enters politics in a more reflective frame of mind that makes him less willing to obsess over political skirmishes.
Mind you, he says he’s not running from his record. He stands by the Olympic Village and even providing money to drug users. “I love the fact that that would be my baggage,” he said of the addict issue. “It’s not about scandal or morally bad behaviour. That was a deliberate political act.”
But for the most part, Mr. Sullivan says he is in a different political place after five years teaching in the University of British Columbia architecture department and running a non-profit organization focused on enlightening the public through salons.
He laughs when asked if he is a kinder, gentler Sam Sullivan.
“I have done a lot of reading, a lot of study,” he says. “I am much more interested in the things that matter. And making small points just to make a point doesn’t interest me as much. Achieving points at the expense of others doesn’t really matter.”
After years on the political sidelines, Mr. Sullivan decided last November that he wanted back in because he concluded that only in politics could he actually enact the ideas he was interested in.
His earlier political career ended in turmoil. After years as a city councillor and three years as mayor, Mr. Sullivan was bounced by the members of his Non-Partisan Association party in favour of another candidate. That was 2008, after Mr. Sullivan’s 2006 moment in the global spotlight, brandishing the Olympic Flag for the 2010 Games from a special bracket in his wheelchair during a ceremony in Turin, Italy.
The prospect of a Sullivan run was rich with irony. He had to embrace Premier Christy Clark, whom he beat in 2005 for the NPA mayoral nomination – “a pretty big dustup” is how Mr. Sullivan remembers that faceoff.
Now he says he has a good relationship with Ms. Clark. “She’s got a difficult job. I am part of her team. I believe there’s a lot good that we can do. I am happy with her leadership.”
He is sanguine about suggestions some party brass preferred Mr. Mayencourt, who was better connected with the provincial Liberals.“I understand politics and loyalty,” he said. “I am certainly aware a lot of key people did help on Lorne’s campaign.” However, he says there was an upside for him. “It certainly made me work hard. I had to make sure I could overcome that.”
On Thursday, Ms. Clark said she would have been pleased with either Mr. Sullivan or Mr. Mayencourt. Still, Ms. Clark said Mr. Sullivan is a good catch as a former mayor with deep roots in Vancouver, and a leadership profile on disability issues. “It says a lot about Sam’s character that he would decide he wants to run with me.”
The former mayor says he won’t have a problem being a face in a Liberal caucus if he is elected. “I understand you work within a caucus and advocate hard for your own values and points of view, and then you compromise.”
But reaching that challenge depends on the outcome of the looming fight with the B.C. NDP candidate, Matt Toner, a digital-media businessman. In 2009, the Liberals won the riding with 57 per cent of the vote compared with 27 per cent for the NDP. On the Liberal side, the riding was open because MLA Mary McNeil decided not to run again.
After Mr. Sullivan’s win, Mr. Toner told reporters he relished the idea of holding the ex-mayor to account for his record. “He’s a divisive figure, kind of an autocratic figure. I think he’s a smart enough guy, don’t get me wrong, but that style of politics is tired now. We need something different.”
Mr. Sullivan, now shifting to a focus on the provincial campaign, said he knew little about Mr. Toner, but would study up and make his case to voters without negative ads – an echo of the NDP’s declared positive campaign style. Of being called a “divisive figure,” the ex-mayor noted: “It doesn’t sound like positive campaigning.”