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Port Moody mayor bows out

Step into the Port Moody mayor's office and the first thing Joe Trasolini will do is point out his wall of fame - the LivCom awards, the mementoes of trips to friendship cities in China, and a model tank from the police department, a cheeky nod to th

Step into the Port Moody mayor's office and the first thing Joe Trasolini will do is point out his wall of fame - the LivCom awards, the mementoes of trips to friendship cities in China, and a model tank from the police department, a cheeky nod to the city's share in an armoured personnel vehicle.

Sitting at his desk, surrounded by council agendas, Trasolini is framed by the city's first artificial turf field, built during his time as a councillor, and the new recreation centre, a $27-million project he spearheaded in his third term as mayor.

In fact, pick any part of the city and it will inevitably feature a project Trasolini has touched: in the southwest corner there's Fire Hall #2, the public safety building in Moody Centre, a densified city centre and roadwork projects like Heritage Mountain Boulevard and David Avenue on the north shore.

And, still to come, a new Fire Hall #1 and the long-awaited Evergreen Line.

Trasolini is proud of those tangible accomplishments, but it's the things you can't see that really get him talking. Like his commitment to youth, the reason he first got into politics back in 1996.

His teenaged son had recently died in a car accident and, after nearly 20 years of coaching his sons' soccer and baseball teams, Trasolini was searching for a way to get back to working with young people.

He became one of four new faces on council in '96, and quickly made his mark with a bylaw to retain at least one full-serve pump at Port Moody gas stations. How else would young people get their foot in the job market, he asks?

He advocated for a youth focus committee as well, and took on the economic development and environment committees.

But those three years were overshadowed by turmoil among the police board, the union and the city.

"The city was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons," Trasolini recalled. "So I decided I wasn't going to run again."

But PoMo residents had other ideas, and pressure from the community eventually won him over. He nabbed the mayor's chair in 1999 amid heated debate over the city's future growth.

"I knew we had to diversify the economy and encourage growth, because you can't just stand still," Trasolini recalled.

He saw the potential of densification to grow the city and protect its forests at the same time - as long as promised infrastructure projects, namely rapid transit and the Murray-Clarke Connector, materialized.

"It was a political keg of dynamite ready to explode, but I knew we could do it."

Fast-forward 12 years and 60% of Port Moody residents live in multi-family housing.

The Murray-Clarke Connector, however, has been sidelined and the Evergreen Line is still at least four years away, failures for which Trasolini blames TransLink and the provincial government.

Also among his regrets is the lost opportunity of a hotel and convention centre at Suter Brook, a project Trasolini promises will bring hundreds of new jobs to the city and one he's vowed to continue supporting.

Those who have worked closely with Trasolini over the years, however, are quick to sing his praises.

"We've been very fortunate to have Joe," said Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who was also elected mayor in 1999 and recalls entering the Metro Vancouver board room as a "newbie" with Trasolini. In 2002 Jackson became chair of the Metro board and, a few years later, appointed Trasolini chair of the environment committee he started.

"He has a passion for that job and... he's been a strong voice for us on air quality issues and agricultural issues," Jackson said. "He's always been a huge advocate for the people of Port Moody and I really respect that."

Elaine Golds, a long-time PoMo resident and chair of the Burke Mountain Naturalists, hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with Trasolini, particularly over what she dubs the "Plasco fiasco," but says the mayor has always been willing to listen.

"When he came in, the protection of the north shore wetlands was a big issue, and that one got resolved really nicely - it was a matter of listening to what the public was saying," she said.

Coun. Meghan Lahti was elected with Trasolini in 1996 and credits him with shepherding Port Moody through a time of significant, rapid growth while keeping taxes in check, and for bringing the vision of a vibrant town centre to reality.

"He's one of the most inclusive people I've ever worked with," she added. "He has this ability to bring consensus at a table... he's not confrontational. It's been an absolute pleasure working with him."

Trasolini says he's leaving the mayor's chair because it's time to move on; he's decided on his next political step but is keeping mum until after his last council meeting Nov. 22.

Looking back on the past 15 years Trasolini says it's been a "tremendous honour" to serve the residents of Port Moody and he's worked hard to make decisions in their best interests.

Along the way he's listened to all manner of accolades and accusations during his Thursday afternoon open office hours. And he has some advice for the next person to sit in the mayor's chair: keep listening.

"Never forget who you're making decisions on behalf of - the residents, whether they voted for you or not. And never dismiss an idea. It may be the winning ingredient that you need to move ahead."