A private decision by Mayor Gregor Robertson and his wife Amy to separate became public over the weekend after the mayor’s office issued a press release Saturday to announce the couple’s marriage breakup.
The brief statement, which noted the separation was made amicably, was followed by a news release from the mayor’s party, Vision Vancouver, that accused the opposition NPA of spreading false rumours and personal attacks on Robertson and his family.
In less than an hour, all forms of media — television, radio, print — were reporting on the private life of a very private mayor, whose wife has never sought the spotlight and shied from reporters.
Twitter and Facebook also lit up with news of the breakup and sparked debates on whether the media should have reported the couple’s separation, which led to Robertson moving to a downtown apartment.
The unprecedented sharing of personal information from Robertson comes after people close to the mayor have known for at least two weeks about the couple’s breakup.
So why did the mayor’s office issue a public statement about a breakup that has nothing to do with public policy or the running of the city?
The Courier put that question to the mayor’s office Monday and received an emailed statement from chief of staff Mike Magee that said the couple went public because of “an escalating series of media inquiries based on hurtful, false and malicious online rumours being spread by the mayor’s political opponents.”
Magee didn’t name the mayor’s opponents, but Vision did in its Saturday release. The party pointed to NPA vice-president Rob Macdonald as the source of the rumours and challenged the NPA to “explain the spreading of false rumours and personal attacks” on the mayor and his family.
Vision called out Macdonald because of a private email he wrote June 16 to Vision, who had sent him an invitation to attend a forum on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline proposal. (Vision regularly sends updates via email to anyone who signs up for the party’s announcements about upcoming events and forums).
Vision released Macdonald’s email but didn’t clarify whether it was available on the Internet. Nor did the party identify where online the rumours were circulating. (The Courier searched various social media sites but was unable to locate any of these reported rumours.)
Macdonald informed Vision he couldn’t attend the forum because “I have been asked to go to a different meeting to discuss some terrible gossip that I find very disconcerting, if correct.” Macdonald went on to list the gossip that centred on rumours related to Robertson’s separation with his wife.
In the same email, Macdonald — who was considering a run for mayor with the NPA — accused Magee of planning to destroy his reputation, if he became the party’s mayoral candidate.
Magee denied the accusation.
Marcella Munro, Vision’s campaign communications director, urged Macdonald to explain his email and requested the NPA’s likely mayoral candidate, Kirk LaPointe, to respond how “personal attacks represents the NPA.”
In an email to the Courier Saturday, Macdonald said: “The NPA is not involved in any personal attacks on Gregor Robertson, nor am I. But certainly there are rumours about Gregor floating around and I have heard them from several sources, including from mutual friends of Gregor’s and mine. I have great respect for Amy Robertson, who has been exceedingly kind to my son, and I wish her all the best.”
LaPointe responded on Facebook, saying although he is not the NPA’s declared mayoral candidate, he learned as a journalist that nothing positive comes from the discussion of personal issues and that respect for public life includes a respect for private lives.
“I long ago concluded that, unless there is an impact on duties, those matters are irrelevant,” wrote LaPointe, a former newspaper industry executive who didn’t comment on Macdonald’s email to Vision.
Terri Evans, program manager of Simon Fraser University’s urban studies program, said she understood the mayor’s need to quell rumours about his marriage.
But, Evans said, the brief statement from the mayor’s office would have sufficed without Vision issuing a separate release that questioned Macdonald’s comments.
“This also speaks to the maturing that Vision still has to do as a party because they don’t necessarily need to do that,” she said. “In some ways, it further opens a can of worms.”
Despite the widespread media coverage of the mayor’s breakup, Evans doubted such news would have any effect at the polls in November.
“I think it has no relevance,” she said.
Robertson, who was first elected in 2008 and won a second majority in 2011, is seeking re-election Nov. 15. He and his wife recently sold their home near 23rd and Oak to move to Kitsilano. The couple, who met in Colorado while attending university, have three adult children and a foster son.