GlobalTV's breaking news story features an FD Element employee who dishes the dirt
The biggest scandal to hit any Vancouver administration in years unfolded in front of TV audiences on Tuesday night, when GlobalTV reporter Marisa Thomas interviewed a former FD Element worker who said that the company has been involved in political dirty tricks paid for by Vancouver taxpayers.
As we outlined last Friday, the documents made public that showed that Robertson's preferred marketing/ad firm FD Element had been hired on a contract, then in turn they hired blogger Jonathon Ross of civicscene on a vague project described as "conversation mining". Then the coup de grace was the documents showing that FD Element paid a company to build and host the civicscene blog.
Now a deep throat figure has come forward, a former FD Element staffer who accuses the company's principals Don Millar and Mike Wilson of colluding with Mike Magee over the chief of staff's personal email account, and paying the ad firm who in turn were paying Ross to conduct attacks on Vision's opponents.
The evidence thus far has been troubling, and the excuses and denials from FD Element and the Mayor's office straining credibility. This is the kind of scandal that has the corrosive effect of destroying governments. The fact that only certain media have decided to report or comment so far is fairly typical with controversial subjects, reports by GlobalTV and CKNW News notwithstanding. That media silence is unlikely to continue, especially coupled with Gregor Robertson's embarrassing endorsement of a communist government yesterday. The Globe and Mail editorial rightly puts the Mayor in his place, saying he was "naive" and was "carried away".
So what next for Gregor Robertson? He has little choice but to make some tough decisions and shake up his administration. If Robertson expects to run in 2011 and serve another (four year) term he must consider firing both his chief of staff Mike Magee and his director of communications Kevin Quinlan.
Magee's actions in relation to the FD Element scandal show an immense lack of good judgment. What was he thinking when he hired FD Element who clearly were strongly connected to Jonathon Ross' civicscene blog?
As for Quinlan, he must wear the absolutely abysmal job of media relations for Gregor Robertson over this summer. Even Allen Garr is quick to admit that Robertson's message is being squashed by a succession of bad media moves. Quinlan's lack of experience is showing, and a stronger candidate for the job must follow quickly.
For Robertson, letting go Mike Magee will be a difficult but important break from the Hollyhock shackles he wears. After 20 months in office Robertson must surely feel confident enough of his own leadership to act without Magee calling the shots.
Who could possibly replace Magee? That's a tough question, but perhaps that person is sitting in the lotus position up at Cortes now, and simply waiting for their orders. Or perhaps Geoff Meggs, a former effective chief of staff himself, will step up for double duty as councillor and key adviser to Robertson.
Of course, Mayor Gregor may try to "weather the storm" of this and all the other controversies. But as poll numbers continue to slip and funds dry up from donors, it will become painfully evident for Robertson that the time to strike is now. Keeping both Magee and Quinlan is big risk for the success of Gregor's mayoralty and for Vision Vancouver's 500-year plan.
Don't be surprised if there's a shake-up when Robertson returns from China.
- post by Mike