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Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan back in politics with B.C Liberal nomination

Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan is seen in an August 2008 file photo.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan has taken a major step towards a possible political comeback.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Sullivan won the B.C. Liberal nomination in Vancouver-False Creek , a riding that covers most of downtown Vancouver, setting the stage for his candidacy in the May 14 provincial election.

It's a return to politics for Mr. Sullivan, who had an iconic turn in the global spotlight accepting the Olympic flag for the 2010 Winter Olympics  in a special bracket on his wheelchair at the closing ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

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But Mr. Sullivan left politics in 2008 – a sitting mayor denied the nomination to seek a second term when members of his Non-Partisan Association party turned against him, voting him out in favour of Peter Ladner, who went on to lose to Gregor Robertson of Vision Vancouver.

Since then, Mr. Sullivan worked as an adjunct architecture professor at the University of British Columbia and headed a non-profit society that tried to generate more engaged citizens.

Last November, however, Mr. Sullivan announced he had spent enough time on the sidelines and wanted back into politics to advance his ideas.

On Wednesday, he won the riding with 273 votes to 202 for former Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt, and 40 votes for Brian Fixter. Mr. Sullivan's victory was greeted with thunderous  applause in the hotel  meeting room where the results were announced.

"I loved my stint in academia and with the think tanks and ideas and thoughts but, you know, I realized ideas and thoughts without action are nothing. You've got to put them to use,' Mr. Sullivan said as well-wishers thronged around him.

"I'm hoping to do that."

He said he has spent five years reflecting on government and how citizens and politicians can act together.

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His remarks were interrupted when Mr. Mayencourt came up and hugged the former mayor in the wheelchair that has been a part of Mr. Sullivan's life since he broke his neck, at age 19, in a skiing accident..

"Congratulations Sam. I know you'll do a great job," he said.

Mr. Sullivan shrugged off the tide of polls that suggest the B.C. New Democrats have a consistent and major lead over the Liberals, who will be seeking a fourth term.  "I present myself to the citizens.  They make the decisions. That's how it works."

He said he expected a much closer outcome in his fight with Mr. Mayencourt.

In 2009, the Liberals won the riding with 57 per cent support over the NDP's 27 per cent. MLA Mary McNeil decided not to seek re-election in the looming campaign.

The NDP's Matt Toner, a digital-media businessman in his first shot at provincial politics, was ready for whoever won the nomination.

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At a coffee shop across the street from the hotel where the results were announced, he said Mr. Sullivan will have to defend his record as mayor.  "Politicians with track records have to run against that track record," he said.

For example, he said Mr. Sullivan will have to respond to problems with the development of the Olympic Village launched on Mr. Sullivan's watch.

"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."

Of Mr. Toner, Mr. Sullivan said he doesn't know much about him, but will be looking to learn more as campaigning looms.

Mr. Sullivan has had an interesting political history with current Premier Christy Clark. After she initially left provincial politics to spend more time with her family, Ms. Clark challenged Mr. Sullivan for the NPA mayoral nomination. Mr. Sullivan won over the future premier. When he announced he was seeking the Liberal nomination, he effusively praised Ms. Clark, noting he was impressed by her work on his eventually successful campaign to become mayor.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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