CityCaucus.com re-starts its popular Know Your Donor series today with a profile of Gregor Robertson's stepdad.
Name: Gordon Russell
Donation to Vision Vancouver & to Gregor Robertson campaign: $22,584
Put your hand up if you went to the Bank of Mom & Dad to help secure your first mortgage. Yeah, me too. It looks like Vancouver's farmboy Mayor also got a little financial help from family in his bid for Vancouver's top job.
Gordon Russell is Gregor's stepdad. Gregor's mom remarried in the mid-1970s to Russell and young Gregor moved to his new Dad's digs in Portola Valley, California where Russell still lives most of the year. Aside from occasional stays with his birth father in a West End apartment due to a custody arrangement, Robertson is a North Shore native who never lived in the City of Vancouver until he was 40-years old.
Before settling in Vancouver in 2005, then newly-elected NDP MLA Gregor Robertson's primary residence was at Cortes Island, where he still has property, after living for years at he and wife Amy's Fort Langley farm. In the Cortes community Robertson met a motivated, and wealthy, set of ex-pat US Democrats who found sanctuary on BC's wet coast from the perceived evil of the U.S.A. under George W. Bush. These Americans went on to bankroll key parts of his business enterprise and political career in Canada.
While Gordon Russell is not, as Charlie Smith describes them, one of the "cappucino-swilling Kitsilano types who spend their leisure time attending seminars," (he's too old skool for that) he shares many traits of the people of Gregor's principal backers: he's loaded, he's American, and he runs a donor-advised fund. Donor-advised funds (DAF) are a slick way for people to give the maximum funding to charities for the least direct cost to themselves. This is because governments waive taxes and other restrictions that would otherwise apply to managing a private foundation.
The Tides Foundation, run by Gregor backer Drummond Pike, have DAF at their core in order to offer good value for their investors. Gordon Russell set up a donor-advised fund for the Hawai'i Community Foundation, and maintains a residence part time in the Aloha state. Russell is also Finance Chair of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and serves as an advisor to Renewal2, a venture capital fund started by Robertson godfather and key adviser Joel Solomon.
Gregor and wife Amy in their kitchen
One of Gordon Russell's more interesting roles is as a co-director of Ohana Partners Ltd. Ohana means "family" in Hawaiian, and the company has only one asset: Gregor and Amy Robertson's house in Vancouver's Douglas Park neighbourhood. Amy Robertson, who hails from Indiana and donated $15,000 to her husband's election campaign, is listed as the other director of Ohana Partners Ltd., a BC registered company.
Company directors are not necessarily the owners of a company. We do know that Gregor Robertson is part owner of the corporation that owns his Vancouver home because of his financial disclosure statement posted on the City of Vancouver website. On page three of this document Robertson, presumably in his own hand, describes Ohana Partners as one of his assets. After scratching out "NO" and checking "YES" to whether he or a family trustee owns more than 30% of Ohana, he writes
"land holding, one property only. [Address blanked out], Vancouver BC"
Ohana Partners Ltd. was set up just a couple of days before the Robertsons took possession of their house, which they describe in glowing terms in this WestEnder newspaper profile from last summer.
In the profile Robertson describes the house:
A tall blue house with a side yard; a living willow fence; a deck, garden and small shed in the backyard; and a basketball hoop in the alley. Our house was built in 1912 and has many of its original features.
Questioned by the reporter whether they owned or rented their home, Robertson replied:
We hope to own it all someday!
Indeed, either he or the corporation hope to have the mortgage paid off. While having your residence in the city owned by a corporation is not unusual, it might be a first for a sitting mayor. The reasons for having a home owned as a corporate asset are many, but it's usually a vehicle for avoiding the payment of the property transfer tax if the home ownership changes hands to another family member, for example.
And how does Gregor describe the decor of the house owned by Ohana Partners Ltd?
You know that "overall chic" is just around the corner.