As some of you regular readers will already know, we attended Tuesday’s mayoral debate, hosted by the good folks over at Better Ballots, and wrote about it here on Wednesday. There was talk of the general atmosphere at the event, how it was the first debate of this campaign that opened up to the wider swath of registered mayoral candidates past just the anointed frontrunners and, ironically in hindsight, how those same frontrunners fared during the course of the evening. We decided to talk about the “other” candidates in a separate post, here today.
Was the segregation necessary and did it serve to simply perpetuate the completely arbitrary division that’s keeping lesser known candidates from gaining wider public exposure? Yes, perhaps. But in our defense the post on Wednesday bordered on being unreadably long. If we had made it any longer with fuller coverage of the “outsider” candidates, no one would’ve read it anyway and they’d all be back at square one, wallowing in obscurity. With their own post now, there’s every possibility that one, two or maybe all of them will break out to be a serious contender on So You Think You Can Be The Next Mayor of Toronto?©®™
Owing to an online poll conducted by Better Ballots last month, candidates Rocco Achampong and Keith Cole earned themselves the right to share the stage on Tuesday with the other “regular” six. Neither Achampong nor Cole fluffed their opportunity to be looked at for further serious consideration. From our vantage point, both men easily fared better than at least 2 of the other candidates on stage.
Not that this should be surprising to anyone paying attention. For Mr. Achampong’s part, he has more hands on political experience than either Rocco Rossi or Sarah Thomson, having been president of both the Black Students’ Union and the S.A.C. during his time at the University of Toronto. No small feat the latter, as he had to contend with an often times fractious 50+ member council.
What was surprising was Achampong’s stagger out of the starting gate, given his political background and the fact that he is a lawyer who, presumably, argues cases in front of an “audience”. He clearly underestimated the 1 minute time limit (strictly enforced) candidates were given and delivered a fuzzy, rambling opening statement that was breathlessly finished in an attempt to get every last word in. That behind him, Achampong settled in nicely, playfully jostling with the other Rocco, and appearing far more prepared to talk about the electoral reform issues on hand than almost all the other candidates on stage. I would advise Mr. Achampong to refrain from quoting obscure theologians in the future for fear of stumping most of the audience although the baffled look on George Smitherman’s face when Achampong mentioned William of Occam may have been worth it.
In his e-vite to the sweaty soiree that Keith Cole sent out, he expressed concern that his appearance at the debate “…could either be fabulous or a train wreck – or a combo of both. A Fabulous Train Wreck!” Well, no worry as Mr. Cole’s appearance on stage tilted heavily to the former. Again, not that surprising as he is a performer and very obviously comfortable on the stage. He brought lightness to the proceedings and sense of fun to battle the room’s heat. When things got a little testy between two other candidates, Cole delivered a tasty bon mot.
“Tonight started out as a cocktail party and it’s become a family reunion.”
More than the merry prankster, though, Mr. Cole brought a couple things to the stage that should not be overlooked. One, was a sense of humility as he confessed confusion at a number of the proposals that were being discussed, asking that the other candidates to explain it for him. At one point, Sarah Thomson obliged but it was clear that many of the others on stage were equally at a loss at times but none had the nerve to admit that publicly. Secondly, Keith Cole displayed a love of this city none of the other candidates did. Sure, they might love to be mayor or love the politics of a campaign but no one expressed the degree of enthusiasm for Toronto that Cole did and he deserves to continue to be heard because of that.
After this debate, if anyone suggests that it was all fun and games, the fringers had their shot in the spotlight but now it’s time to get back to the serious business at hand and let the “real” candidates (or as the Toronto Sun phrased it, “quality declared candidates”) continue flailing away at one another, they are simply attempting to quash outside voices and a much wider discussion about this city’s future. If you’re going to refer to the likes of Rob Ford, Sarah Thomson, Giorgio Mammoliti, Rocco Rossi as “quality declared candidates” – and I’m being unusually generous not including George Smitherman on that list – Keith Cole and Rocco Achampong have earned a spot amongst them.
And not only Cole and Achampong. While we were surprised that less than half of the other 20 declared mayoral candidates used the opportunity of the debate to introduce themselves in a one minute statement, there were some who struck us as deserving a closer look. As the son of an Irish immigrant, Colin Magee spoke very eloquently and concisely about the need for extending the municipal vote to permanent residents. George Babula fought through an apparent case of severe stage fright and talked enough sense to earn a further hearing. And we highly encourage everyone to check out HiMY SYêD next Tuesday as he pushes off his campaign. He killed on Tuesday with his line: “We’ve sent enough Cowboys to City Hall, Now, It’s Time for an Indian.” Who wouldn’t want to hear more from him?
Despite the Better Ballots move toward a wider candidate inclusivity, the “official” debates continue next week in their sanctioned format. Only Frontrunners Need Appear! Making matters worse is that debate on Thursday is going to be moderated by the ultimate mayoral media darling, John Tory who, mysteriously, is still being wooed into entering the race. So we’re back once again to independent voices and ideas being shut out of the race. That is not good for democracy. That is not good for this city.
So we say, let’s boycott all future mayoral debates that remain the sole domain of illegitimately designated frontrunners and lazy media favourites. Let’s stop allowing nebulous entities to arbitrarily dictate to us some pre-approved list of who we can listen to and vote for.
Boycott! Boycott!! Boycott!!!
– stridently submitted by Cityslikr