The Sutherland Press building casts more than a shadow across Talbot Street . . . the moribund edifice projected a pall over last October’s mayoral race and ultimately proved a game-breaker in the final days of Cliff Barwick’s campaign.
Days before the trek to the polls, building owner David McGee dropped a bombshell — he was suing the City of St. Thomas, Barwick, St. Thomas police and other defendants for $3 million for punitive damages and aggravated damages as well as “mental distress, economic interference and, specifically, loss of income” for what the claim states was “unnecessary demolition” in July, 2008.
And, insisted the move was not political — even though he hired Liberal strategist Suzanne van Bommel and employed an automated phone dialer to leave voice mail messages for city residents.
Seven months later and Barwick remaines adamant: “In my mind it was a smear campaign.”
Speaking to City Scope this week, Barwick asserted, “When I was mayor I never saw a business plan (for the building). There was nothing ever submitted that I saw that would confirm there was any real or sincere desire to carry through with any renovations or any project.
“The timing (of the law suit) was very interesting and that is the clue to the whole thing. It had nothing to do with any vision. It had nothing to do with any plans he (McGee) had. He ran into a mayor and a council that was not going to give in and give him cash flow for his situation.”
Is he bitter as victim of the American-style attack campaign (which included a nasty print advertisement the Times-Journal declined to run, based on legal counsel) orchestrated by McGee and Van Bommel?
“I’m not bitter. I’ve been around politics a long time and you must realize the essence of politics is that it’s not necessarily a fair game you play. If you’re in politics because you think it’s fair, the political aspect is not fair. But, you cushion yourself for that. It’s part of the process when you put your name on the ballot.”
So, what is the status of McGee’s $3 million legal action?
“It still is proceeding forward,” McGee told City Scope via telephone Friday. “The lawyers are doing what they do. Nobody’s wanting to talk to me about anything else. I have been preparing plans and getting other things together to hopefully do something with the building .”
We asked McGee to project his vision for what was to be a loft condominium development for the Sutherland Press building.
“I think it will probably end up being some sort of rental units, just because I don’t think I can get an agreement in place for parking that would be needed for condos.
“I’m thinking something for seniors might be a good fit with the downtown location. And a main floor for commercial use.”
McGee insisted the city dropped the ball when it proceeded with the intent of demolishing the structure in 2008.
“In every way possible, the city handled this thing wrong from the start. I guess we’ll flush it all out when it comes down to what really happened. I don’t think it ever should have happened the way it did.”
Is McGee being overly optimistic when he suggested the law suit is proceeding forward? The city’s CAO, Wendell Graves, provided the following insight.
“It’s not even in the courts. It’s still in fact-finding mode. We have a protocol where it goes to our insurers and they manage it from there. It’s in their domain and that’s where it sits right now. ”
The Sutherland Press building provides the backdrop for what is surely a tainted chapter in the city’s political history and as such, we’ll leave the last word to Barwick.
“You judge the character of people by their actions. I’m not mentioning any names, but it certainly involved some members of the present council. And as far as I’m concerned, that speaks volumes. I can stand up and debate issues with anybody, but I’m not going to sink to that level.”
RE-ARRANGING THE FLOWERS
We see London spin doctor John Matsui, who last summer briefly advised Elgin St. Thomas Public Health CEO Cynthia St. John, is now undertaking the same duties for Central Community Health Centre Executive Director, Judith Wiley.
Digging back into the files, we’ll paraphrase American social historian and educator Daniel J. Boorstin — some organizations are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.
As observed in this column last June, and the bottom line remains the same, every dollar Matsui pockets is a dollar sidetracked from the delivery of community health services.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Looking back on my career, boy I’ve known a lot of people in a lot of situations. If I wrote a book, they probably would have to publish it after my death.”
Although he feels he was the victim of a smear campaign in the final days of last October’s election campaign, former mayor Cliff Barwick retains his sense of humour.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @ianscityscope