Vancouver still likes him.
In the closest race Gregor Robertson has run since he was first elected mayor in 2008, the Vision Vancouver leader thwarted a serious challenge Saturday from the NPA's Kirk LaPointe to be handed a third term by voters.
Robertson won 83,529 votes to LaPointe's 73,443 on a day that saw a 44 per cent voter turnout and forced the City of Vancouver to extend voting hours at four polls by up to 45 minutes.
"I'm so humbled and honoured to have been re-elected as your mayor," said Robertson from a stage at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, where about 500 Vision supporters celebrated a victory that included re-election of six councillors to secure the party's majority on council.
It was the third time in six years that Robertson defeated an NPA challenger, leaving LaPointe to wonder like previous contenders Suzanne Anton in 2011 and Peter Ladner in 2008 what it will take for the NPA to regain power.
"I wish him well," said LaPointe in his concession speech from a stage at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. "I consider it a real significant accomplishment to win three races in a row in this city."
Recent Vision and public opinion polls showed Robertson's lead at only four to five percentage points over LaPointe, with Saturday's results mirroring those predictions with Robertson getting 46 per cent of the vote to LaPointe's 41. The same polls pointed to COPE's Meena Wong finishing a distant third, which she did with 16,791 votes.
There was uncertainty whether Vision would return a majority to the 11-member council. But enough voters decided Saturday that Vision councillors Raymond Louie, Heather Deal, Tim Stevenson, Andrea Reimer, Kerry Jang and Geoff Meggs should get a third term on council. Vision Coun. Tony Tang lost his seat.
Also returning to council are NPA councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball, who will be joined by former NPA park board commissioner Melissa De Genova. Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr, who narrowly won a council seat in the 2011 election, convincingly retained her seat by topping the council polls with 74,077 votes.
While the news for Vision was good for its city hall contingent, the party lost its majority on the nine-member school board with only four seats and lost control of the seven-member park board, with four NPA candidates winning seats. The Greens won one seat (Janet Fraser) on school board and two seats (Stuart Mackinnon and Michael Wiebe) on park board.
Vision's win Saturday comes only four days after Robertson stunned viewers and radio listeners of a CBC mayoral debate when he apologized to voters and promised to do better.Robertson didn't specify which issue or issues he was apologizing for but at a campaign stop in Kitsilano Thursday he pointed to the "cross-pressures" of development and affordability.
"I've been hearing on this campaign for months now that people felt that they weren't heard on some of those issues," he said, acknowledging that residents of Grandview-Woodland were "infuriated" by the city's initial plan to build towers in the neighbourhood. "I ultimately take responsibility for that, and I was just apologizing to people so they understand that I'm committed to doing better — that there's no hard feelings there, and I want to be sure in this next term we find better ways to hear from people and to make decisions, accordingly."
In the same CBC debate, Robertson pleaded for COPE supporters to cast a ballot for Vision to fend off LaPointe and the NPA. LaPointe called the plea "an act of desperation" while Wong one-upped the mayor by urging Vision voters to "come home" to COPE, a party that had a split in its ranks a decade ago and led to the formation of Vision.
Though two distinct parties, Vision and COPE previously ran coordinated campaigns but that ended this year when COPE decided to run Wong for mayor; COPE hadn't run a mayoral candidate since Larry Campbell led the party to a landslide victory in 2002.
It was unclear from the results how much of an effect, if any, the apology or Robertson's plea to COPE voters had on Vision's victory, although COPE failed to elect any candidates.What's clear is that LaPointe and the NPA, as well as other competing parties, candidates and neighbourhood groups, were heavily critical of Vision's approach to consulting the public on development, homeless shelters and projects such as the Point Grey Road bike upgrades.
The pointed criticism can be traced to Vision's push to approve new community plans in the West End, the Downtown Eastside, Marpole and Grandview-Woodland. Opening shelters and temporary housing downtown and in neighbourhoods on the East Side also generated pushback for council. Among the biggest revolts came during the debate around the massive redevelopment of Oakridge Centre and Rize Alliance's condo project at Kingsway and Broadway, both of which council approved.
"We have to take some lessons from [the victory], we've got to hear what people have been saying and make sure that we respond appropriately," said Meggs, who collected enough votes to win the final spot on council.
This campaign got nasty with Vision launching a defamation suit against LaPointe and the NPA over suggestions that city hall was for sale after a controversy erupted over Meggs making a pitch to CUPE Local 1004 for campaign money.
When asked after his speech to compare the campaign to his two previous runs, Robertson described it as "intense" and said "the personal attacks were very unpleasant." In July, Robertson's office issued a press release to announce the mayor and his wife Amy had separated. His party issued a release the same day, calling on "the leadership of the NPA to explain the spreading of false rumours and personal attacks" on the mayor and his family.
Earlier in the day, LaPointe told reporters some of Vision's advertising was "designed to personally ridicule me and make me look like somehow I lacked certainty when I was thinking aloud that I didn't have a thought process."
Added LaPointe: "In a lot of ways, I thought it was very disappointing. I would have loved to have debate after debate on ideas."
Robertson promised in his victory speech to do better and remain steadfast in his drive to end street homelessness, address climate change and work with senior levels of government on initiatives related to mental health and addictions.
During the campaign, Robertson promised more affordable housing, to continue his efforts to get a subway built along the Broadway corridor and keep up his fight against Kinder Morgan's pipeline proposal.
Next year, Robertson and his council will decide on whether the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts should be demolished, review the work of the citizens' assembly in Grandview-Woodland to create a new community plan, activate the Affordable Housing Authority and decide whether Vancouver will get a bike share program.
Vision's triumph Saturday was unlike the wins in 2008 and 2011, where the party seemed to cruise to victory after running conservative, non-controversial campaigns that really began in earnest in the fall.
This time around, the party began advertising against Kinder Morgan's pipeline proposal and campaigning for a Broadway subway months before the summer break. In the last few days of the campaign, Robertson was also more visible to the public and media than in recent memory, being whisked all over the city by his team.
Robertson and his new council will be inaugurated in the first week of December. If Robertson finishes his third term, he will be the longest serving mayor in modern times, with Louis D. Taylor serving 10 years between 1924 and 1934. Voter turnout this election at 44 per cent was the highest since 2002, when it was 50 per cent.