Friday, October 23, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

-John McDonagh can be reached at

Business and the pursuit of being his Honor the Mayor

Almost from the moment the campaign began, many of our readers have asked whether the Vancouver Business Journal would endorse one of the candidates for mayor of the city of Vancouver.

We gave the matter much thought and deliberation. We poured over Councilmember Tim Leavitt and Mayor Royce Pollard’s positions on the issues, attended many of their numerous debates and heard both men talk about their vision for the future of a city many of us hold dear – America’s Vancouver.

Even after all that – a year or so after this much-contested mayoral race in Vancouver first started rolling – the Vancouver Business Journal has decided not to endorse either candidate in the contest.

Here’s why: For us to endorse a candidate for any office he or she should be the one best suited to address the needs of business through their elected position.

There are many considerations for choosing our mayor. Our interest is by definition easy – is the candidate one who understands business and willing to advocate strongly on our behalf? In our opinion the differences between these two candidates is hardly significant.

When we look at the many issues facing this city, the campaigns of Leavitt and Pollard have much more similarities than differences. And most importantly given the focus of this publication, after studying each candidate’s claims of being the person the business community can rely on to advance their needs through 2013, we see no clear distinction.

Let us first consider their endorsers. A check of their campaign websites shows both Pollard and Leavitt with the support of a variety of businesses, both large and small. So, from a business community support standpoint, there’s not much difference.

Both candidates claim more will be done on behalf of Vancouver businesses. Both claim job creation is the key to economic vitality and offer promises to put plans in motion to address the issue. Both promise to create a business advisory group to help focus the city’s efforts.

The incumbent candidate points to his personal effort to keep major employers and their jobs in the city. His challenger offers his personal experience running a local business as the reason he can carry the business-issues banner best.

At the end of the day, the mayor of Vancouver is one vote on a seven member council. How that vote is leveraged is really what this long mayoral contest is all about. Or as Hamlet might say: ‘Whether ‘tis nobler to travel boldly and smash Portland-themed coffee mugs – or facilitate discussion closer to home, inviting comment and collaboration?’ That is our question.

In recent weeks, the candidates have made attempts to distance themselves from the other, and of late have taken to the tactic of proclaiming the shortcomings of their opponent rather than explaining why they deserve your vote.

Here comes the disappointing realization. Aside from whether or not bridge tolls should be part of the proposed Columbia River Crossing project – a subject which the Mayor of Vancouver has some influence but no decision-making authority – there is little difference between the candidates as it relates to doing business in the city of Vancouver.

We are a city of large employers and Mom & Pops; boutiques and manufacturers; professional servicers and distributors.

Vancouver is a business community of size and consequence in the region because we have all of these elements and more. Without any of these businesses we are less complete. Consequently, our city’s future business strategy cannot be a zero-sum game. It can’t be large employers at the expense of small boutiques, just as it cannot be the Mom & Pop store at the expense of professional services.

Both candidates have missed an opportunity to unite the business community behind their candidacy. Our next mayor needs to provide the leadership that assures large employers and small businesses of their local value and contribution.