The truth is finally out – Judy Rogers runs the show in Vancouver and will long after the election dust settles in November. At first blush, Frances Bula’s Vancouver Magazine piece presents an in depth, illuminating bio of the woman long acknowledged by insiders to wield almost d-word-like power in civic politics, but her style is far from dictatorial.

She does much of her work in what some would see as a classic woman’s style: she believes in partnerships and collaboration. “The city can’t make any change by itself,” she says. That’s why she put together the Vancouver Agreement, the three-government effort to salvage the Downtown Eastside. And when that stopped working, she called on people like Dobell and former attorney general Geoff Plant. To get things done, she believes, you need links to “people who are strategically placed to make things happen.”

However, upon closer examination, this “news” outing Rogers’ status and role should strike fear in the hearts of voters, taxpayers and anyone purporting to believe in democratic process – and cause downright panic in the annals of City Hall, begging the question: Are Vancouver civic elections a sham? Consider this from Bula’s piece:

Over her nine years, there has been a strong undercurrent of unease in each of the three council regimes about how much power Rogers holds, power that seems to have expanded as she’s filled the vacuums created by rookie and dysfunctional city councils. People in both political camps murmur about the bureaucratic culture Rogers presides over at City Hall that seems to see politicians as the “temporary help” whose flighty ideas need to be headed off at the pass or allowed to drift off into never-never land.

The Mayor and Council are not intended to be merely “the public face of civic politics”, they are there because of the process through which voters elect them – all under the erroneous assumption that their decisions impact the civic landscape, literally and figuratively. Make no mistake, over the years, Rogers has worn many costumes: horse whisperer to Larry Campbell’s bucking bronco, cautious tour guide to Phillip Owen and most-recently, hang-wringing puppeteer to the Sam Sullivan regime – and it was a regime because as an individual, Sullivan came so close so many times to deep-six-ing his own office through his blunders, only his gang of handlers kept the truth of his incompetence from the public and saved his administration from a premature trip to the toilet – and she is poised to assume a new as yet undetermined incarnation alongside either Peter Ladner or Gregor Robertson.

So as the city prepares to elect yet another new mayor (the third in a row), it’s no surprise that there are many conversations on both sides of the political fence along the lines of, What are we going to do about Judy? Because it’s clear that getting to the throne at City Hall this November will be only half the battle. Then there’s dealing with the power beyond the throne.

Perhaps the public’s new awareness of Rogers’ omnipotence will create barely a ripple, due in large part to the fact that she is damned good at what she does. There seems to be little suggestion from anyone on the inside – love or hate her – that Rogers has done anything but carefully consider and weigh her decisions with the gravity of a judge on a death penalty case; she is extremely hard to find fault with. Perhaps no one has a problem with her as the financial, social, developmental and environmental compass guiding the city through the murky waters of increasing homelessness, high property crime, unparalleled drug trade, the Olympics, Civil City, the future of Eco-Density and the threat of big box development, but one would think the citizens would want these decisions exposed to the light of due process and transparency.

Missing in Bula’s piece is any mention of the challenge to end homelessness. Rogers and the rest of City Hall may find this issue on their doorstep far sooner than later – perhaps even before the new Mayor and Council are elected – and the smart money says this may press Rogers into action to create a plan that works for all the stakeholders. If anyone is up to the task, it sounds like it’s her.

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