Meet A Mayoral Candidate XI

April 30, 2010

It’s Friday so let’s Meet A(nother) Mayoral Candidate!

This week: Michael Bloomberg.

What? Wait? Who? Michael Bloomberg?! What are you talking about? Enough already with the New York kick. Are you talking, Michael Bloomberg, that Michael Bloomberg? He’s not running here, is he? Can somebody actually be mayor of two cities at the same time?

No, no. Michael Bloomberg’s not running for mayor of Toronto but he probably could if he wanted to. I mean, who’s going to say ‘no’ to the 8th richest person in the United Stats?

We’re just taking a little break this week in the Meeting A Mayoral Candidate in order to explore a couple issues about electoral reform using the New York mayor as a jumping off point. Don’t worry. We’ll be back next week with our regular post highlighting one of the lesser known names in Toronto’s mayoral race.

When you’re talking a strong mayor system, New York City has, I think, what would be called a very strong mayor system. The position is a branch of municipal government all on its own, the executive branch to be exact, separate from the city council, much in the way that the American president is separate from Congress and governors are distinct from state legislatures. While mayors of Toronto have just recently been given modest powers to name committee chairs (and therefore the majority of members of the executive committee), in New York the mayor has a much wider reach of appointees who oversee the running of the city.

In Toronto, as a voting member of the council, the mayor can more readily steer the agenda toward the floor of council to be voted on but ultimately the position amounts to just one vote of 45 albeit the most prominent vote. Unless a mayor can muster 22 councillors to vote with them, a simple majority can override a mayor’s wishes. Not so in New York. While a mayor there doesn’t even vote with the council, they can veto any law that arrives on their desk from council and if the council then can’t muster up a 2/3s majority to override the mayor’s veto, the bill dies. So a mayor of New York can shape the debate with only 1/3 of council+ 1 behind them.

Michael Bloomberg himself brings a couple interesting things to the table. He takes no pay aside from a $1.00/year token sum. He does not live at Gracie Mansion, the traditional home of New York’s mayors. He’s taken no public money to finance any of his 3 election campaigns and reportedly spent over $70 million of his money to win the office back in 2001 and again in 2005.

To some, this makes him beholden to no one. Owing no favours, he governs with the city’s best interest at heart. A beneficent ruler, you might say, the ultimate philanthropist. Hopefully the next billionaire who decides to buy the office is as enlightened as Michael Bloomberg.

So beloved by his subjects electorate that when Bloomberg decided the two term limit was for mere mortals like Rudy Giuliani, the council extended him an additional term and the voters agreed by re-electing him in 2009. What happens in 2013 when Bloomberg comes to the conclusion that his work is not yet done as mayor of New York? Another special dispensation? Why go through the whole motion of setting term limits as a device to curtail career politicking if you’re simply going to ignore them when you have someone in office you particularly like or, at least, don’t yet loathe?

In the hyper-partisan world that is politics in the U.S., Michael Bloomberg is something of an oddity. He is a Democrat turned Republican turned Independent who seems to be working well with a city council that is heavily, heavily Democratic. Maybe that’s a sign that party affiliation at the municipal level doesn’t matter. At least, not if you’re ultra-independently wealthy like Michael Bloomberg.

So what does all this tell us about the varying types of governance at the municipal level which is something the Better Ballots folks are in the process of exploring here in Toronto? Do we really want people financing their own way into politics even if their intentions are honourable? Doesn’t that just lead us back down the path to a past where wealth and status trumped everything else including any sort of party system that might be in place? Democracy bought by few people to represent those without deep pockets.

This is especially troubling when paired with a strong mayor system. The richest person in the race gets elected and, fingers crossed, they’ve sought office for the best, most noble of reasons. And if they haven’t? Well, term limits aren’t going to spare us if they can just be ignored especially if other like minded politicians have also purchased elected power. It all seems unhealthy and a step back to a time that was not very conducive to a full and equal participatory democracy.

And yet, New Yorkers still seem quite happy with their mayor. Hardly the case here in Toronto. Maybe we’re not the big fans of democracy we like to think of ourselves as. All that we’re really looking for is a benign autocrat. A rich uncle who will know what is best for us and will act accordingly.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Minneapolis Cycle City USA

April 29, 2010

There must be some sort of mistake. A typo or something. This just can’t be possible.

Minneapolis named America’s best bike city.

Or maybe there’s a Minneapolis in some other state outside of Minnesota. California. Oregon. Arizona. You know, where they can ride their bikes all year round.

Because in Minnesota, man, you wouldn’t waste the time, money or effort to build and design a crackerjack bicycle system that people would use for just part of the year. I mean, that would be insane, an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money, some sort of socialist plot to steal our cars from us.

That’s what we’re told up here in wintery Toronto when bike lane opponents have run out of other arguments. As recently as a couple weeks ago in a Toronto Sun editorial, huffing mightily in indignation about the proposed trial run of bike lanes on University Avenue this summer, we’re warned that “… council needs to remember that what may work for 12 weeks in the summer from July to September could prove to be a disaster in the dead of winter.

Not just unworkable, you understand, but a disaster.

Bike lanes are for more temperate climes. Vancouver. Portland (a previous winner of Best Bike City in America). Europe. You mean like balmy locals such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam? They don’t count. They’re European. They like biking because they’re effete, cheese-eating car haters.

We here in North America take to our bikes only recreationally and only when weather permits. Hardy means shivering in your car before the seats actually warm up. Nobody in their right minds would choose to bike in the winter which is why there’s usually only couriers out on the road between November and April.

Apparently, no one’s informed the people of Minneapolis about that. The city is strikingly similar to Toronto weather-wise, averaging slightly less than one degree colder in its daytime highs throughout the winter months with an almost identical amount of snowfall. Yet, there it is, the newly crowned America’s Best Biking City. Yes, they experience a drop off of bike commuting when the temperature plummets and snow falls, as much as 2/3s by an estimate a couple years ago. But this does not stop them from investing in, promoting and encouraging cyclists.

So, it’s not a question of can you create a positive biking culture in cities afflicted by inclement winter weather. Minneapolis proves that you can. It’s all about will you.

bipedally submitted by Urban Sophisticat


NYC Postmortem

April 28, 2010

So I step in after my colleague’s hard crash, like a child coming back down hard to earth after a mad sugar rush, he could be out for days by the look of it, to wrap up our New York City sojourn.

As any good trip away should, we return home with a heightened appreciation of where we live. At least, most of us do. Acaphlegmic went missing Monday night, staying aboard the uptown bound N train as the two of us hopped off at our stop. He had a plan, he said, that did not include us. With that, he was gone, destined for the upper regions of Manhattan or, quite possibly, Queens.

In terms of vibrancy and self-assurance, there really is no other place that compares to New York. It is the centre of the known universe and is well aware of that fact. To bask in its aura even for just a few days, is to acquire a taste, ever so fleetingly, of what it is like to wield true power.

That’s fun for awhile but the responsibility becomes a bit much for us mere mortals to bear. We make our way back home with the knowledge that we are not, ultimately, made of the sterner stuff needed to survive a serious go in such an unforgiving environment. Failure is not an option, as the movies tell us, so we retreat to our slightly more humble surroundings.

Where we have a little more space. A little more tranquility. Where the food is just as good and less pricey and precious. Where we have long since abandoned the idea of building subways.

Did you know that New York City is still building subways? How is that possible? I thought our American neighbours took it in the economic cojones much harder than we did. Especially at ground zero of the meltdown, home to your Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. So how are they going about such extensive public transit infrastructure spending while we fiddle and fart over extending LRTs?

Then I came across this little tidbit in the Wall Street Journal yesterday at the airport:

Top New York real-estate executives and the City Council speaker will make an 11th-hour push Wednesday to persuade the White House to back federal funding for a second subway station as part of the extension of the No. 7 line in Manhattan.

Officials from the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will meet in Washington with Vice President Joe Biden’s staff in hopes of securing hundreds of millions of dollars to build a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street.

What’s that then?! A New York City councillor and some members of the real estate association have an audience with the US Vice-President, the second most powerful man in the world, trying to secure federal funding for one subway station!? I mean, wasn’t he just over in Israel trying to kick start peace in the Middle East? Remember when Toronto was trying to secure some federal infrastructure money last summer and were told by the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to go fuck ourselves because we hadn’t crossed our Ts and dotted our Is to their satisfaction?

Maybe cities get the respect they deserve. As long as we continue to grovel at the feet of senior levels of government, begging them to pony up cash they took from us in the first place, we’ll continue to be second class citizens. By taking seriously would-be mayoral candidates who call financial negotiations with the province ‘going cap in hand’, Toronto is simply acknowledging the fact that we’re an after-thought, a voter rich zone with little actual power and zero influence.

I’m not proposing we be like New York. That’s impossible and undesirable. What I would like, however, is to occasionally strut like New York, swing some serious pipe like New York. To simply stop acting like we’re not worthy to be treated like a world class city by the very politicians we elect to serve us. I’m not alone in appreciating where I live. It’s time to demand our elected officials do the same.

stridently submitted by Urban Sophisticat


… Goodbye City Life

April 27, 2010

We’re packing up and heading home. Back to the ho-hum, the dreary drudgery of every day life. Leaving behind the bright lights of the Great White Way for the dim luminescence of energy efficient bulbs.

While we’ve only been here a few days, it feels much, much longer. New York has changed us. We walk slightly faster than we did before we visited. We talk slightly louder. A pizza is no longer a pizza. It’s a pie.

Will we be able to readjust to the bumpkin level pace of Toronto? The monotony of hayseed life may well crush our new found spirit of adventure and bellicosity. We will demand to jaywalk with impunity and smoke wherever… the local city ordinances tell us we can which seem far more restrictive than they do in Toronto. Weren’t we supposed to get that ban on outdoor patios too?

New York, it’s been a slice. You are that thing we will always have on the side. Fun, exotic, impulsive and ever so slightly dangerous (although not as much as when you were younger). You are the city we visit but would never think of settling down with. A failure of nerve and imagination on our part. There is too much of you for us to embrace. We are simply not up to the task.

Until we meet again…

submissively submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Called Yankee Stadium

April 26, 2010

So it appears that the 27 time World Series champion New York Yankees play their home games at a place called Yankee Stadium not Yankley Stadium as it read on our computer printout page of the tickets Acaphlegmic purchased online last week. This became clear to us upon our arrival at an eerily quiet Yankee Stadium over the weekend. A couple very bemused security guards informed us that the defending champion Yankees were in fact out on the west coast playing the Angels of Los Angeles and would not be back in town until next week, long after we returned home to Toronto. Something someone probably should’ve confirmed before pressing the computer’s ‘Enter’ key to finalize a financial transaction with a friend of a friend of a guy that this guy knew on the internet.

A valuable lesson to be learned the hard way about engaging in e-commerce. Be fully informed of all the details before handing over important financial information to unknown, unsecured sources. And be equally vigilant when granting access to the corporate credit card as some people, it would seem, are not thorough enough to handle such responsibility. At least not without proper adult supervision.

Now, if we want to take in a ball game while here in New York, we are left with the unappealing option of watching the Mets in the rain in Queens. It’s almost enough to take the wind out of the sails of a springtime trip to the Big Apple. Almost.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr 


A Transit Solution Proposal

April 25, 2010

Generally speaking, the New York city subway system is not what you’d call beautiful. Very few fancy-schmancy, artistically rendered stops. Functional, turn of the last century, drab holes in the ground with newer vehicles running through a true maze of tunnels; occasionally idiosyncratic, rarely welcoming. It is a little confusing at first with your A-W, 1-8 trains, express or local runs, uptown, downtown, Rockaway bound mélange although not impossible to quickly learn how to navigate. Cleaner and freer of debris than the much less extensive moving far fewer people Toronto subway. 

But on a late morning on any day of the week, you can get from the upper west side of Manhattan to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in a matter of minutes for the low, low price of $2.25. No fuss, little bother. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, a subway is the best, most efficient way to move a mass of people throughout a densely populated area. About this there can be little argument. Except of course when it comes to cost. To build subways in this day and age is a pricey, pricey proposition. In most cases, prohibitively so. $300 million per stop is one estimate I have seen. So instead we talk up the benefits of LRT, environmentally friendly buses and the like. Poor second choices, runners up, consolation prize winners.

Here is another idea.

How be we take $1 billion, just over the cost of building 3 subway stops, and use the funds to develop a time machine? Hear me out, people, hear me out on this. We could then travel back in time to a low cost era – the early part of the 20th-century or just after World War II – where we would construct a much grander, wider ranging subway than we did at the time, forewarned as we would be with the knowledge of how big Toronto would get and how important public transit would be to our future well-being.

If that’s unrealistic due to a mere billion dollars not getting us that far back in time, we could spend less and return to a more recent era. Say just 25, 30 years ago before we started electing short-sighted, narrow-minded, parochial politicians who lacked the intestinal fortitude to do what was right for the health of our major urban areas. Aim for about 1980 or so when dim-witted, neo-liberalism became all the rage, ravaging good governance and sound future planning in its greedy gob.

It might work. Won’t know until we try.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


A One Way Discussion

April 24, 2010

Sitting on a patio at the corner of  71st and 1st on the upper east side, taking a lunch time margarita for a test drive. What’s a lunch time margarita, you ask? Well, as far as we can tell, it’s just like a night time margarita only cheaper. A slippery distinction that’s difficult to pass up. 

Acaphlegmic’s in yet another lather. Truth be told, he’s been in some sort of lather or another since we arrived here in New York. First, it’s the ‘mallification’ of Times Square. You see, Acaphlegmic hasn’t been back to the city since around the mid-80s when, as an aspiring actor training at the Neighborhood Playhouse (alma mater of Jimmy Caan!), he prowled the mean streets of the East Village.

“In those days,” he tells us, “Times Square was gloriously seedy. Just like in Taxi Driver.” Apparently, you could buy yourself a cold beer from any squalid convenience store that had a bullet proof glassed enclosed cash register, pop it into a paper bag and then wander around, taking in the sights of open prostitution and live sex shows. “It had character,” we’re told. “Not just this soulless, neon lit commercialization.”

While we all agree on the latter point, Times Square is just another American strip mall, full of cheap souvenir shops and chain stores, there has to be some sort of compromise between that and the old stomping grounds of Travis Bickle. We’re called ‘cheap punk corporatists’ for that view. Another round of lunch time margaritas is then ordered as Acaphlegmic launches into a new day’s outrage.

Grid patterned numbered streets and avenues.

“Where’s the romance in that?”, we’re asked rhetorically. “You always know where you are. It’s impossible to get lost!” Huh?! Just when we thought an argument couldn’t get any loopier. The man tops himself. “In great cities, you always get lost. That’s what makes them great. By getting lost, you make new, unexpected discoveries.”

We’re going to find no common ground on this discussion. The utilitarianism of Manhattan’s numbered grid system is pure gold as far as we’re concerned. Not only do you know where you are but you know roughly how far it is you need to go to get to your next destination. Say, for instance, you’re drinking lunch time margaritas at 71st and 1st and you’re planning to head off to the Guggenheim. Its coordinates are 88th and 5th. That’s roughly 17 blocks north and 4 west (give or take a couple big name avenues that intrude. Like your Park and Madison Avenues). Your journey is about 25 blocks. Accordingly, you adjust the number of drinks you can have before heading off to get to the gallery before closing time.

Furthermore, we love the alternating one way street set up running both north-south and east-west. Odd number streets go west. Odd number aves head south. Or do evens go south? No, definitely odd number avenues travel south and the evens go north but even numbered streets flow… ? We had this all figured out before the lunch time margaritas.

Either way, it works well and a pedestrian catches on very quickly, within minutes realizing they only have to look in one direction in order to jaywalk safely. It’s not that Manhattan isn’t still congested but that’s a matter of there still being too many cars trying to fit into too little space rather than a badly designed traffic flow.

“Why don’t we have more one way streets in downtown Toronto?” Urban Sophisticat wonders. “Start south of Bloor. Leave it two way. Harbord-Wellesley goes west. College-Carlton east. Dundas travels west. Queen east. Etc. etc., all the way to Front Street. Same thing north-south from Parliament to Bathurst or so, leaving Yonge as a two way.”

Why not? With all the talk of bike lanes, transit and traffic congestion during this year’s municipal election campaign, where are the radical ideas? Anyone who’s traveled through the downtown core can tell you that the big one way thoroughfares, Adelaide and Richmond streets move more smoothly (not including the construction corridor between Bay and Yonge) than any of the other east-west roads. Granted, they don’t have to contend with streetcars using the two middle lanes but wouldn’t one way traffic on those streets that do help improve the situation? Turning vehicles would be off to either side not blocking the flow up the middle. Would the streetcars have to be uni-directional as well or is there a way to control having one lane coming the opposite way just for streetcars?

Surely there are traffic flow experts who have answers or solutions to these questions. Studies must have been conducted somewhere. So why isn’t there a discussion happening over bigger view ideas and grander visions for improving traffic congestion in Toronto?

“Because,” opines Acaphlegmic, noisily finishing off yet another lunch time margarita, “people are afraid of change.”

Truer words have never been spoken from drunker lips.

lubricatedly submitted by Cityslikr