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Mayor's political aspirations intact as 'Robertson's Riot' tag fails to stick

Robertson's Riot it wasn't. That's the clear upshot from Thursday's well-written, comprehensive review into the unprecedented outbreak of hooliganism on downtown streets, after the local Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final.

The 137-page report into the riot, co-authored by Douglas Keefe and John Furlong, spares Mayor Gregor Robertson, his Vision Vancouver council and city managers from major criticism.

The mayor's political opponents in the rival NPA have been trying hard to pin the "Robertson's Riot" label on the disturbances almost from the moments the rioters finally staggered home to bed.

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But there was little political meat in the report for them to gnaw on in the coming months before November's civic election, and the mayor's path to securing a second three-year term has one less hurdle in the way.

No wonder mayoral aspirant Suzanne Anton, the lone NPA member on council, seemed frustrated as she spoke to reporters outside the hotel suite where the report was released.

"I think this report leaves the mayor off the hook," Councillor Anton fumed. "This event was run out of his office.… It never came before council.… These two commissioners were given all their information by the city. Did they really hear about all the [other]pressures that were going on?"

Still, the report did point to the need for better event planning and recommend that the city establish a "Major Event Planning Team" for future large gatherings.

And some may question the city's decision, outlined without comment in the report, to have security check only "suspicious characters and backpacks" for alcohol as they entered the Live Sites.

Police had asked for everyone to be searched, but the city felt this would have meant hiring more security personnel and led to longer lineups.

"Cost effectiveness was important to the city," the report noted, "because the Stanley Cup run turned into a series of large, unexpected events for the city to pay for."

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Over all, there was no specific finger-pointing at the city. Indeed, the co-chairs expressed sympathy for the city's struggle to hastily organize the Live Site viewing areas with little past experience, little help from anyone else and no expectation the crowds would grow so vast.

"We believe all involved did their best to manage the hand they were dealt," the report said. "It is perhaps too easy and unfair to harshly second guess organizers for what was a noble initiative that many say would have happened without any organization. Too many people decided to come downtown. The crowd was just too big."

But Mr. Furlong did not miss a chance to hammer home one of his familiar riffs from his years as head organizer of the 2010 Winter Olympics: Be prepared for the worst.

Think of the worst thing that could happen to any event or the Games themselves, and devise a plan to cope. These calamities were thrashed out at numerous table-top exercises much loved by Mr. Furlong.

This, the city did not do. That's why they were so caught off guard by the enormous, early crowds on riot night, according to the report.

"We believe that for events of this scope the best approach is a commitment to early, detailed planning for every eventuality, but above all, to plan for the worst. This was a key element in Olympic preparations." No prize for guessing who wrote that.

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The report even included a handy-dandy framework for the city to adopt in planning for its next big events.

At the same time, the report made a point of squelching past accusations that Mr. Robertson and/or city manager Penny Ballem had interfered in Police Chief Jim Chu's preparations for policing the Stanley Cup playoffs by pressuring him to keep his budget low.

"Police plans and budgets were prepared with no political influence or interference," the report declared. No ifs ands or buts about that.

Undoubtedly relieved at the report's findings and escaping any personal blame, Mr. Robertson quickly endorsed all report recommendations and vowed to implement those affecting the city as soon as possible.

A special meeting of council will be held next Tuesday to consider the independent riot review.

Mr. Robertson said he particularly liked the report's suggestion that mayors no longer head municipal police boards. Mr. Robertson told the co-chairs that he felt it was "poor governance," and they agreed.

Mr. Keefe said the situation gives the erroneous and unhealthy impression that the police chief works for the mayor.

Meanwhile, the mayor said he was never very aggrieved by the Robertson's Riot tag. Those who called it that were politically motivated, he told reporters at city hall.

"Next thing you know Councillor Anton will be blaming me for the traffic on the Malahat," Mr. Robertson said.

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