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After 18 years as a Liberal MP for Vaughan, Mauricio Bevilacqua opens the shutters to his office on the last day in his constituency following his retirement announcement Thursday, September 2, 2010. (Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail/Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail)
After 18 years as a Liberal MP for Vaughan, Mauricio Bevilacqua opens the shutters to his office on the last day in his constituency following his retirement announcement Thursday, September 2, 2010. (Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail/Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail)

Bevilacqua wants to mend Vaughan Add to ...

Maurizio Bevilacqua has never lost a race for office. And on Friday, when he officially joins the race to become the mayor of Vaughan, he hopes he can keep that winning streak going.

The veteran Liberal MP said he decided to leave a 22-year career in Ottawa after hearing numerous pleas from residents to take a leadership role in Vaughan, one of Canada's fastest-growing cities.

"For me, public life's a vocation, it's not a job. I view it as being of service to others," he said. "So when people continually approach you to ask you to run, you have to take their word seriously."

Observers say his bid for office will be a game-changer in an as-yet quiet race led by incumbent Linda Jackson, who will face Municipal Elections Act charges in court next January, and former Liberal MPP Mario Racco, who lost the federal nomination in North York to Mr. Bevilacqua 22 years ago.

"This does dramatically change the landscape of the mayoralty race in Vaughan," said Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson University.

"Given the climate of recent years on that council - the trail of alleged improprieties, the very high discordant animosity that's played out - Mr. Bevilacqua might appear to many as a combination of Mr. Clean and Peacemaker."

Mr. Bevilacqua, 50, has worn many hats in Ottawa, climbing the ranks from the youth portfolio, to holding a five-year stint as chair of the Finance Committee to becoming Minister of Science, Research and Development.

"You come to a point in your life where you say 'Okay, you have all this political capital accumulated, where do you want to invest it?'"

When Mr. Bevilacqua announced his departure from Ottawa last week, Thornhill Conservative MP Peter Kent issued a statement congratulating him on his new move.

Mr. Bevilacqua said their sound relationship speaks to his willingness to work with people from different political parties and different points of view, a muscle he wants to stretch with the Vaughan council. So does his work on refugee reform with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney earlier this year (he's spent the past 14 months as Immigration critic).

He also feels progress in the city has been stunted by what he calls "unstable governance." He said he hasn't been able to work as closely with Ms. Jackson, not like he did with her mother Lorna when she was mayor years ago.

"There hasn't been the dialogue that was evident with her mother," he said. "But having said that, I certainly don't dislike her. I always have respect for people who seek public life."

If anything could work against Mr. Bevilacqua in the minds of some voters, it's his Liberal affiliation, no matter how party-free municipal government is supposed to be, Prof. Siemiatycki warned.

"It may well be that various groups in Vaughan whose connections might tilt more toward the Conservative party might not look favourably at the major chair being occupied by such a high-profile Liberal," he said.

Mr. Racco, who has been campaigning for eight months, expressed frustration at the idea of Mr. Bevilacqua jumping into the race a week before the deadline for nominations.

"In [the voters']best interests, you cannot show up at the 11th hour without a [platform]or any experience in municipal politics," he said. "This is not party politics."

Regional councillor and candidate Joyce Frustaglio said she asked Mr. Bevilacqua about his intentions before deciding whether she should run for re-election in her current position or try for the mayor's chair.

"A great deal of my decision to stay where I am was as a result of his commitment that he would run," she said, calling him a "viable choice" for mayor.

Mr. Bevilacqua said he wants to attract new business by creating an 'innovation park,' which would draw leaders in new media, technology, research and development and financial institutions. He wants to attract more artists to make Vaughan a "cultural point of reference." And he wants to transform the downtown, a plan for which is already in the works, into "the heartbeat of York Region."

And Mr. Bevilacqua isn't worried about attracting stakeholders.

"This is where my experience comes in," he said. "I place a phone call and it's likely they'll pick up. Right?"

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