Thursday, September 13, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


Long-time Vancouver Park Commissioner Al De Genova has decided to hang up his Park Commissioner hat and while he is being coy about future political plans, many political watchers don't expect him to soar off into political retirement. Actually, expect him to try on a new hat as politics seem to be in his blood. Let's just hope though in toying with new hats, that he doesn't choose the pork-pie variety that former Councillor, Jim Green, wears.

Commissioner Al De Genova has served Vancouver well, however, in the last election cycle in 2005, he seriously considered joining the hastily created Friends of Larry Campbell/Vision party. He mused out loud that he had concerns about his existing party, the NPA. This didn't endear him to his running mates within the NPA, who sensed that his political loyalty wasn't to them.

Al De Genova who has been the longest serving Commissioner, easily won re-election in November 2005, topping the polls. The NPA defeated COPE, reclaiming a majority on park board. Normally in these circumstances, the top vote getter of the governing party is selected by their colleagues to serve as Park board Chair. In the case of Mr. De Genova, he was passed over in favour of political newcomer, Heather Holden, who placed an impressive third in her first run for park board elections.

Rather quickly after settling into their respective Park board seats, Commissioner De Genova raised an issue of Park board Chair, Heather Holden, being in a conflict-of-interest. This alleged conflict was caused as a result of Ms Holden being involved in park board discussions regarding the Vancouver Aquarium, who happened to be her employer. This was fair political comment, however, coming from one of your colleagues--one of the members of your own party--was perceived by party mates as betrayal of the worst kind. NPA Leader, Mayor Sam Sullivan stepped into the fray and suspended Commissioner De Genova from the NPA caucus.

Instantly, Mr De Genova became an Independent, but some say he wasn't really. His family took out memberships in the new Vision party. They were at the founding meeting, when Vision elected an executive. Mr. De Genova wasn't present at this meeting, however, it wasn't a secret, everyone knew Mr De Genova had a close friendship with former Mayor, now Senator Larry Campbell. His sympathies seemed to lay with this new political party. Many others expected his political fortunes to also rest with them.

At the time, I believed Mayor Sullivan actions to be wrong. I went further, I stated Commissioner Holden was in a perceived conflict over the Aquarium issue and that she should resign. It was no secret that Ms Holden's boss, Mr. John Nightingale, the Executive Director of the Vancouver Aquarium, wanted to expand the footprint of the Aquarium into our beloved jewel, Stanley Park. The Aquarium is a privately run corporation and Ms Holden was going to have difficulty wearing two hats. Her oath of office, required her to look after the public interest and Stanley Park is a public park. Unfortunately, at that time, as an employee of the Aquarium, this called into question, her loyalties. Commissioner Holden has since found a new job and no longer is there any perception of conflict regarding the carrying out of her civic duties.
Back to Commissioner De Genova and his political aspirations.

It is terribly sad that this individual, who many believed took a principled stand on the Aquarium issue and many political observers, myself included, believed Commissioner De Genova to have exercised the utmost political integrity in doing so.

But all this political capital that Commissioner De Genova has built by standing on political integrity may be tossed aside if he chooses to run, as many expect him to, in the 2008 municipal Council race. His integrity, could well be called into question-- not because he is choosing to run--but the party he chooses to run with--Vision-- has badly soiled party clothes.

The Vision group destroyed a political party, COPE which has been in existence since the late 60's. All Vision Councillors gained their political capital as a result of COPE. If it wasn't for COPE, none of these elected Vision officials would be in the corridors of power today. Then Mayor Larry Campbell was elected as a result of COPE, however, after being elected, he decided he couldn't stomach COPE policies and so he set in motion, Friends of Larry, which included Councillors Raymond Louie, Heather Deal, Jim Green and Tim Stevenson. This newly-formed group claimed COPE to be extreme, however, it was more like their whopper-sized ego's wouldn't allow themselves to work cooperatively with-in COPE. They wanted to call the shots so they set about to destroy COPE and a number of City Hall watchers believe they succeeded.

My feeling though is that the success of Vision may be short-lived. They gained political prominence primarily through Senator Larry Campbell, former Councillor Jim Green and welcoming with open arms, extravagant corporate donations from developers, gambling interests and the bar industry. As everyone knows, Jim Green, built his political career on being perceived as the champion of the poor. He was adamantly opposed to Expo and for good reason, as Expo evictions were creating extreme hardship for those poorer citizens living in the Downtown Eastside. Mr. Green though, when the Olympics rolled around had a change of heart and became a strong Olympic booster. Interesting about-face on the part of Mr. Green , although, the heart and soul of COPE remained opposed to the Olympics, whereas Mr. Green in his Mayoral race, gladly accepted a million dollars from groups, who for the most part, do not have voting rights in Vancouver. The reason, the tag-along Vision Council candidates were elected was a direct result of this million dollars. It seems money talks and they offered up for sale, their political integrity to the highest bidders.

Sadly though, Commissioner De Genova, who is used to selling real estate will be opening a can-of-worms if he makes the political mistake of choosing Vision to be his new home. They will only use him and in their quest for power, will trot out that they are a party of political moderates who come from various political backgrounds and stripes. They will showcase Councillor Chow and Commissioner De Genova as proof of this, but make no mistake Commissioner De Genova, when you lie with dogs, you get fleas. Your well-deserved respect around political integrity, if you choose to run under the Vision banner, will be put in their wash. Just look at them. Receiving donations from criminals, drunk driving and other messy stuff.

Is that how you want your political career to be remembered?

Jamie Lee Hamilton