Here is what Mayor Stephen Mandel has taught me about political leadership: arrive in your own vehicle. Here is what I mean.
A few years ago, when I was still working at CTV, our newsroom had a travelling slo-pitch team. The idea was we would get a side together and travel out to your community diamond, bring a news camera along, shoot some "highlights" (usually Dan Kobe making a good play) and plug your neighbourhood or agency initiative in the process. It was a lot of fun.
But that's not the item.
One evening we were playing the good people at the Mustard Seed Church on the inner-city ball field in Boyle Street. Shopping cart poverty pushed past. There was some despair sitting in a small circle in right field. I removed a couple of hypodermic needles from the base path between first and second base. We had invited the mayor to join us and, with the warmup under way, he roared into the parking lot in his late-model Mercedes Benz and jumped out.
That's not really the item, either. The item was me.
What I remember is my reaction, or, to be more accurate, the muddle of my reaction. Really? I thought for just a second. Driving your Mercedes into Boyle Street? That's kinda rich. But on further thought what did I expect? That he would arrive by public transit or ride a bike over just to somehow "fit in?"
That scene replayed in my memory a few weeks ago when Mandel let loose on the ruling provincial Tories, some of whom were in the Shaw Centre ballroom in front of him, for political budget crimes against the University of Alberta and the citizens of Edmonton.
|A great pic by The Edmonton Journal|
Mandel was criticized for being mercurial and, what's worse in the age of modern software politics, unpredictable. To which, predictably, he responded: "I have been a great friend, but I can also be not a great friend."
(As an aside, that might be the best description ever of Mandel's style. Typically, it was uttered about him by him. Meta mayor. There should be an adjective. Mandellevian, maybe.)
Here's the thing. I don't think I have ever heard Mandel play the listener card. You know, the bluff that would have voters believe that the greatest virtue of a politician is to listen to them or to convene an important conversation with them or some version of that participatory ploy.
Yes, voters want to be listened to, but there are all kinds of problems with just listening, not the least of which is you can hear only those who speak up while having to also represent those who don't. And that some voters also expect you to listen to things that others can't hear yet. And that listening isn't the same as acting or building bridges between those you listen to.
It seems to me that Mandel didn't really give a shit about what others thought about him. He didn't spend a lot of time listening in that non-listening sense. He wasn't a career politician. He didn't need the dough. He made some miscalculations and errors along the way but not because he was beholden in a dangerous way to what others thought or said about him.
|Today: Me, chief of staff Patricia and the mayor|
Today, Stephen Mandel announced three terms as mayor is enough, and that he will not run for re-election in the fall. He made the announcement in the Art Gallery of Alberta, an idea captured in architecture that simply would not have happened if all we listened to were voices that counselled pothole repair above all.
Mandel fixed a lot of potholes. He did a lot for inner city Edmonton and her citizens.
But he kept driving that fancy car to where he wanted to take us, too.