Former mayor launches new project

Sam Sullivan is a ‘facilitator’ for Global Civic Policy Society, linking research with politicians

Byline: Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun

Sam Sullivan, urban eco-warrior, has two rules in his new post-political life. He won’t do breakfast meetings and he no longer drives, preferring to roll his zero-carbon wheelchair through a 10-block radius around his high-density downtown Vancouver condo tower.

“I decided I’m living a new life, an environmental life,” said Sullivan. “I like to slip into the day, study in the morning when my mind is fresh.”

The lifestyle change has given the 49-year-old former Vancouver mayor time to work on his French, Cantonese and Mandarin, and to watch educational DVDs. (These days, Sullivan is fascinated by Euclidian geometry, and he knows something about Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories of knowledge.)

It’s also given Sullivan time to reinvent his life once again with a project called the Global Civic Policy Society, a new non-profit organization mostly financed by one mysterious out-of-province patron.

Sullivan wants Global Civic, which so far appears to be a one-man band, to link the research of leading academics with politicians and other policy-makers.

He says his new role will be one of a “facilitator,” adding, with a smile, “maybe this is the real Citizen Sam.”

Sullivan hopes Global Civic will become a vehicle through which he can explore some of the key policy areas of his controversial mayoral term: How to achieve denser communities (EcoDensity, anyone?); how people can live together in dense communities (Project Civil Society); and how drug laws can be created to treat addicts as disabled patients, and not as criminals (his ill-fated Chronic Addiction Substitution Treatment program).

These were policies that alienated many members of his Non-Partisan Association and, Sullivan acknowledges, contributed to his political demise last year.

“But now I’m free of those political constraints. I don’t have to worry about that anymore,” said Sullivan. “And my theory is that I may be more effective outside city hall than inside.”

If there is one overarching message Sullivan wants to promote with Global Civic, it’s that Metro Vancouver — including Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods — needs to become far more dense; otherwise, the region will become even more overwhelmed by greenhouse gas-producing, habitat-destroying sprawl.

Sullivan’s new gig seems somewhat ill-defined — and as quixotic and idiosyncratic as the man himself. He says he’ll be writing, speaking, fundraising and bringing people together.

“I’ll find out what actually works. In this new phase of my life, I have to explore where my value is.”

Global Civic is scheduled to be officially unveiled Thursday during a luncheon at the Pan Pacific Hotel (not a cheap launch pad). Sullivan has persuaded former NDP premier and Vancouver mayor Mike Harcourt to be the emcee, and various academics will give brief presentations. Sullivan chairs the society, and its board is made up of long-time supporters, including Wayne Hartrick, who managed Sullivan’s successful 2005 mayoral campaign.

Among the speakers at the Global Civic launch will be Lawrence Frank, a transportation expert at the University of B.C., who will talk about how community design can generate increased walking, transit use and cycling.

This weekend, following the Global Civic launch, Sullivan flies to New York City to attend a gala put on by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and next week he plans to travel to Singapore to check out that city’s attempts to become a greener city.

Frank said Sullivan should be praised for creating Global Civic. “He’s a good facilitator and has very good ideas — and it’s commendable that he’s using his time and money to support these ideas that he is passionate about.”

Frank said Global Civic will “push what Sullivan originally coined as EcoDensity, but which may be described more broadly as a transit-supportive environment.”

Sullivan’s charitable organization is being bankrolled with one large donation from an unidentified benefactor, who will be named Thursday, and with smaller gifts from a few local funders.

Sullivan said he has enough money — a few hundred thousand dollars — to finance Global Civic for a few years, at least. Sullivan, who has done consulting work for Beijing’s tourism industry, will not disclose what his Global Civic salary will be, but he does say that his overall annual income exceeds the $120,000 he made as mayor.

Global Civic can be seen as an extension of the “salons” staged for many years by Sullivan and his wife Lynn Zanatta, usually at the swank Opus Hotel. Over the past 10 years, Sullivan has invited academics, journalists and senior editors, physicians, lawyers and business people to talk about their work and views over dinner.

“I think my experience with the salons has affected the way I do things. Bringing all these different ingredients together, people who wouldn’t ordinarily connect. I think it’s a real malignancy of our society that we are so silo-ed.”

Sullivan hopes the Global Civic will become the third act of his public life. The first act was Sullivan’s success over 15 years in creating a roster of well-financed non-profit advocacy groups for the disabled. The second, again over 15 years, was Sullivan’s time at city hall, first as councillor and then as mayor.

“I wouldn’t have traded a minute, but 15 years is a long grind,” said Sullivan of his political career, which ended a year ago when the NPA dumped him as its mayoral candidate, two years after he delighted the world by waving the Olympic flag from his wheelchair at the Turin Olympics.

Sullivan acknowledges that Global Civic is a work in progress. “When I created the disability organizations, what I started was completely different from what I ended up with,” said Sullivan. “So I’m just making it up as I go. You know, see where it ends. But I’m starting off on a pretty solid footing. There is decent funding to move it ahead.”

Currently, Sullivan operates the society out of his home office and a small 100-square-foot office at the Plaza of Nations. He hopes to eventually finance research on public policy, but has no plans to hire staff. “I’d like to keep it mean and lean.”

The origins of Global Civic are unclear. The group’s initial marketing material says that Global Civic was founded by Sullivan when he was mayor.

In an interview, Sullivan said he didn’t create the group, but did provide “encouragement” while he was mayor to a group of friends who actually started it.

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