The Debates Drone On

June 16, 2010

Walking out from Trinity St. Paul’s church… er, Centre after the latest mayoral debate, I was accosted by a young fellow who stepped in front of me, blocking my path and demanded to know if I was Rocco Rossi.

Now, I have been called a few names in my time that were not my own, many better, most much worse, but never one this curious. Was I Rocco Rossi? If I’d been quicker on the uptake, I would’ve acknowledged that, yes in fact, I was Rocco Rossi but I had no time to stop and chat since I’d just stolen Sarah Thomson’s wallet from her purse and needed to make a quick getaway. That would’ve got the Twittersphere a-buzzing.

I could then take my act on the road, doing a little door-to-door canvassing under the name of Rocco Rossi, not so much campaigning as panhandling, begging for money, claiming that my fundraising had dried up since Rob Ford entered the race. I’d accept non-cash donation as well. A nice hot meal would be nice because I was so very, very hungry.

Oh, the things I’d do if I were the pretend Rocco Rossi.

Aside from that unusual ending, the debate itself proceeded pretty much as expected except that George Smitherman was absent who, it would appear, no longer needs to debate his opponents now that China has anointed him Mayor of Toronto. Taking his spot up on stage was Howard Gomberg, one of the 24 or so “other” candidates officially registered as mayoral candidates. How the evening’s hosts (a series of Bloor Street West business improvement areas and residents associations) decided upon Gomberg remains a mystery. The debate moderator, Gus Sinclair, began to explain the selection process but then simply didn’t and moved on to the candidates’ opening remarks.

This only increased my cynical suspicion of nefarious motives in choosing Gomberg to warm George Smitherman’s seat. An actor, improv-ver, spouter of New Ageism and all round genial old guy who wows the audience with his beat poetry/raps, Gomberg might be just the candidate to scream “Fringe!” loud enough for everyone to simply ignore all the other outsiders as cranks, pranksters and jokesters. None worthy of further consideration.

That Mr. Gomberg acquitted himself to the degree of not being an embarrassment was a good thing. Aside from injecting a little levity into the proceedings, however, he didn’t bring much to the table but, at least, he was not the clown prince. How could he be, what with Rob Ford sitting beside him?

Clown, buffoon, gas bag and blowhole. All these descriptors of Ford come easily but they don’t actually do justice to the monumental ignorance the man displays in terms of governance. It’s all about customer service to Ford; answering phone calls, filling potholes, putting name tags on city employees. There’s a paucity of imagination in the man (and presumably his rabid followers) that is simply staggering. Every time he stands to speak or rather, vent, H.L. Mencken’s quote immediately springs to mind. For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Of course, Rob Ford merely delivers the populist, grassroots version of the same song and dance sung by candidates Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson. Much of the evening’s talk was of fiscal responsibility, getting our financial house in order, running a tight ship, profligate spending and taxing. No degree of counter-argument penetrated their discussion.

Councillor Pantalone claimed that under the Miller administration municipal spending had risen less than government spending at either the provincial or federal levels. No matter. We must get our fiscal house in order before going to the senior levels of government, cap-in-hand. But the provincial and federal governments just posted $20 billion+ and $50 billion+ deficits respectively. They are hardly the paragons of financial probity that Toronto needs to be justifying itself to. Cities aren’t allowed to run annual operating deficits, Pantalone points out. Immaterial. Until we get serious about cutting taxes and spending, we cannot expect other levels of government to take us seriously.

So it went in circles. Ideology trumping informed debate which was especially discouraging last night as the audience largely brought their A-game, posing questions about land use development, population density strategies and socially inclusive gentrification. For his part, Joe Pantalone engaged in a thoughtful, deliberate manner, most of the time. But it’s a difficult slog as he doesn’t possess an orator’s power of persuasion, coupled with the fact his opponents were mostly content to talk trash and shit, brushing Pantalone off with the school yard taunt of Miller Lite. (No. I most certainly am not Rocco Rossi.)

Bringing me to a most unsettling conclusion: Giorgio Mammoliti came across as the evening’s most intriguing candidate. Setting aside for the moment all the man’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, he struck me as someone who genuinely is searching for a way to make this city better and more vital. Yes, his thoughts and plans drifted in and out of lucidity and he says sinister things like, I know where the money is, but he seems like a candidate who is not set in a rigid belief system. This leads to many a contradiction (even within a single statement) and backtracking which could well be a very solid indication that he doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about. Yet, on this night at any rate, it felt refreshing, popping up as it did in a sea of unyielding certainty and blinkered absolutes.

Or maybe I’m already desperate, clutching at straws, waiting and hoping for someone to step forward and give me one good reason to think that dark days don’t lie ahead for Toronto.

not yet but close to fearfully submitted by Cityslikr