I’m Not Rob Ford

September 30, 2010

“I think Smitherman’s run a brilliant campaign.”

Coming from our office’s regular drug taker, I’dve normally let the statement pass without comment. Something that just pops up and out with no prodding from anyone or anything in particular save the chemical reactions bubbling and brewing inside his own head. But it struck me that the heated conversation it precipitated offered up a window into what passes as discourse around here. So consider what follows not a verbatim recreation of an All Fired Up in the Big Smoke editorial meeting so much as a spirit of the thing recounting.

“You says what now?” asks Cityslikr.


“Did you just say that George Smitherman’s run a brilliant campaign?”

“…Yeah,” Acaphlegmic responds with no trace of defensiveness. It’s more thankful that someone in the room remembered what he’d just said.

“By what gauge do you use to measure brilliance, old timer?” Cityslikr asks in that slightly highfalutin way he has to make it seem he’s much more intelligent (and younger) than he actually is. Couldn’t he have just posed the question like, “Tell me how you think Smitherman’s campaign has been brilliant, Acaphlegmic”?

“Proof’s in the pudding, boy!” Acaphlegmic exclaims, thereby justifying the previous punctuation mark. “How else do you explain him still being in the thick of things?”

Before Cityslikr can even start to run down his list of possibilities like money, name recognition, media pimping and lack of serious competition, Acaphlegmic is off and running as often happens when he combines mild forms of hallucinogens and alcohol.

“Out of the gate, he’s the front runner, the candidate to beat. It’s his election to lose, right? Problem is, you got to maintain the pole position for an eternity. How do you do that?”

“A slow, steady roll out of innovative ideas and forward-thinking planks of your platform that galvanizes voters behind the concept of you being the best person to be our next mayor?”

There’s nothing funnier than watching one person who is high — really high — look at another person as if they are the ones who are high and talking nonsense. It happens a lot around here. Things kick back into gear after a brief pause.

“… Or… Or you could slowly not become the front runner. Make a big splashy entrance into the race and immediately start humming and hawing, and not saying much of anything until people start to wonder where the hell you are and what the hell you’re doing.”

“The Barbara Hall Strategy,” I chimed in. “From front runner to also-ran. Champ to chump.” Acaphlegmic smiled, sensing I’d plugged into his vibe. I hadn’t.

“But she lost!” Cityslikr yelled, finally. “That’s not a strategy. That’s gross incompetence.”

“Or is it?” Acaphlegmic asked cryptically. When the answer to a question is so glaringly obvious, it’s hard not to think of it as a trick, fully loaded. Just like the person who’d asked it.

“Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth.” Acaphlegmic pronounces and bounds up onto the desk to tower over Cityslikr as he recites. “Prince Hal: Yet herein will I imitate the sun/Who doth permit the base contagious clouds/To smother up his beauty from the world/That, when he please again to be himself/Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at/By breaking through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”

Honestly, the only thought going through my mind at that particular moment? What a shameless ham Acaphlegmic was. Cityslikr had already turned back to his computer, assuming the conversation had reached its illogical conclusion. But this was just the first act.

Acaphlegmic jumped down from the desk to the floor like a man half his age, muttering “Fucking illiterates” not very under his breath. He then turned back and let forth another burst of thought. “It’s the political equivalent of Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy. Think about it! Take a pounding. Look helpless, defenseless, out of your league. Give the impression that it’s only a matter of time before your opponent lands a knock out blow.”

“It’s easier than coming up with a substantive platform and credible candidacy,” I offer helpfully.

“Let someone else take the lead for awhile and get worn down, taking hits from all quarters. Flailing away, single-mindedly with one approach. Pound, pound, pound. Hammer, hammer, hammer. Slowly losing steam.”

“Rob Ford as Smitherman’s Falstaff!” I chime in enthusiastically. Stretching the Henry the Fourth analogy a bit thin but Acaphlegmic’s Ali-Foreman comparison was a little dubious as well. It was good enough to break down Cityslikr’s futile resistance.

“Yeah but, didn’t Hal have to eventually do something good to prove his worthiness? Like win a big battle?! St. Crispin’s Day! ‘Once more into the breach, dear friends’!”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Acaphlegmic tells Cityslikr as he turns back toward the couch. “That was Henry the Fifth.” He then deftly pirouettes, performs an Elvis-like Las Vegas rock and roll kick before plopping back down on couch. His peace has been said.

Cityslikr watches him for a bit, not in the least bit convinced. I’m not ready to dismiss it just yet.

“Ford’s teetering now. He’s scorched the earth. His numbers don’t add up.”

“Neither do Smitherman’s!” Cityslikr yells, steadfastly refusing to submit.

“Yeah but, he’s number 2. No one’s focusing on him. Ford’s still the man to beat. All Smitherman has to say at this point is, ‘At Least I’m Not Rob Ford’.”

“I’m Not Rob Ford,” Acaphlegmic chants from the couch. “Nice cadence to it. I’m Not Rob Ford. Keep Hope Alive. Yes We Can. I’m Not Rob Ford. I’m Not Rob Ford.”

“He wins the election and becomes mayor, it still works for him. He cuts and hacks away, privatizes a little of this, outsources a little of that. Everyone gets pissed and all he has to say is, At Least I’m Not Rob Ford.”

“I’m Not Rob Ford. I’m Not Rob Ford. I’m Not Rob Ford,” Acaphlegmic continues.

Cityslikr shakes his head and will not join us in believing anyone, even the soulless George Smitherman, could be that calculating or would be capable of pulling off such a diabolical tactic.

“So crazy, it just might work,” I say to him as he starts typing away at the computer. He won’t respond which means that the discussion’s over but I’m free to do with it as I see fit. Here it is. You’re welcome. And the crazy old man on the couch continues to chant.

“I’m Not Rob Ford. I’m Not Rob Ford. I’m Not Rob Ford.”

insiderly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

The Campaign Story So Far

September 29, 2010

Like any piece of stolid fiction, our municipal election campaign began with a very simple premise: anger. It then proceeded along a fairly predictable narrative trajectory, tossing out the odd red herring twist like a sex scandal followed by a drug scandal. Some characters’ fortunes rose, only to fall again. (Like Scarlett O’Hara, will they live to fight another day?) Others remained purely one-dimensional comic foils. As the story lumbers to its cliff-hanger conclusion, it ham-fistedly pushes any shading and complexity that inadvertently surfaced back under the radar in order to re-embrace an easy-to-follow, paint-by-numbers, nursery school storybook simplicity. A stark choice to be made between two alternative; one, of darkness and the other of… well, less darkness.

This tale’s inciting incident? Toronto’s civic employee union strike in the summer of `09. Apparently, we as a society can no longer endure inconvenience. At least not due to our public employees. For 6 whole weeks, residents had to contend with their own refuse. Parks were filled with garbage! The city teetered on the verge of near exasperation. Somebody was going to have to pay.

So the fury rained down on the mayor who, by all accounts, caved into the unions. How do we know this? Because the unions said so, which they never do at the conclusion of strike action unless they actually win. Unions are stand-up when it comes to stuff like that. They are incapable of spin.

The strike and fallout from it was simply the tip of the incompetence and spendthrift iceberg that had torn through City Hall. Toronto had lost its bearings. We were drifting towards the dangerous rapids of insolvency, rack and ruin. All had been well and good before we dropped the ball and allowed David Miller to man the helm. It was quite obvious he had to go.

And he went, chased from the scene in a hail of ridicule and derision owed to a man clearly out of touch with the citizens he’d been twice elected to lead. He and his corrupt co-conspirators had done their damage and threatened the future well-being of this city in the process. We needed a hero with the intestinal fortitude necessary to turn this ship around.

And they came. Out of the woodwork and backrooms, taking city hall (the very place they were endeavouring to ultimately lead) to task for a litany of shortcomings and missteps, helping to paint in the dystopian picture that was already out there on display. Spending was out of control. Traffic congestion was out of control. Public transit was a mess. Everything and everyone involved with city governance was dysfunctional, and without the tough love these candidates were offering, our collective future was bleak, bleak, bleak.

Never mind that much of this story owed its traction to mere hyperbole. Yes, the city was facing problems. Indeed, some quite worrisome but in an objective weighing of the situation, it was nothing short of fantasy to conclude that things were as bad as we were being told by our media and candidates out on the hustings. Rational voices, both inside and outside, were pushing back slightly, advising us that there was no reason for unfounded panic.

On top of which, none of the leading candidates were putting forth viable solutions to the problems (real and imagined) the city was (or wasn’t) facing. In rejecting anything that had to do with the administration they were seeking to replace, they were forced more and more into promoting staggeringly half-cocked platforms that arrived still born in their impracticality and unlikelihood of solving any our problems. None more so than the man who shockingly took control of the bitch fest that the campaign had disintegrated into.

He was rewarded for delivering a simple message of outrage and never veering from it. That’s how a successful candidate campaigns, we were told. That’s how a successful candidate ‘resonates’ with a wide public. Keep it simple. I’m Angry! You’re Angry! We’re All Angry! Elect Me And I Will Be Your Anger At City Hall!

With their Anger Train hijacked, the others hopped a-board, attempting to be the angriest, meanest son of a bitch who had what it takes to clean up our municipal mess that they helped create in the minds of voters.

Problem is, anger cannot last indefinitely. Especially if large portions of it are manufactured out of fear and insecurity. And simple is oftentimes revealed to be nothing more than simple-minded given enough time. After over a year of unofficial and official campaigning and with just a month left to go, a realization dawned that we’ve been sold a bill of perishable goods whose best before date is October 26th.

But instead of looking around to see what else is on offer out there, we’re being told to whittle our choices down to two. It’ll be easier that way. Sure, neither option has done a single thing to warrant further consideration. They’ve both only served to poison the community well. And now, like the very best of snake oil salesmen, promise us that only one of them possesses the antidote to make the water potable again.

It is an ending completely unearned. That book you know you should’ve put down early on when the inklings of doubt about its worthiness first surfaced. But you soldiered on, assuming that the story’d get better and the payoff would be worth your effort. You were wrong. Trashy’s fun for awhile but when you realize that you’re simply being taken for a ride and treated like an imbecile, it’s time to turn close the book and move on to more challenging content.

prosily submitted by Urban Sophisticat

One Councillor And One Mayor Are Not Enough

September 28, 2010

Early on at last night’s Ward 19 council debate, it became clear to me that Toronto’s post-amalgamated governance structure is woefully lacking in delivering us the representation we need and deserve. As the questions piled up (both prepared from business and residents association as well as the audience’s more free form stylings), most expressed concerns about purely local issues. The moratorium on restaurants and bars on Ossington Street. Park upkeep and organization at Trinity-Bellwoods. Traffic congestion in Liberty Village and parking at the CNE.

Undoubtedly, some of these have city wide implications concerning matters like density and park management, but it still felt awfully parochial, if I can use that term non-derogatorily. The debate was held in a parish, after all. So why not `parochial’?

Local matters should be the main duty of those seeking a council seat. To look out for the interests of their constituents. Councillors represent the peoples’ voice at City Hall.

But this leaves the city wide view in the hands of the mayor and the mayor only. Councillors sit on various committees that oversee municipal aspects for the entire city like transit, police, planning but they remain councillors first and committee members second. Leaving us with one voice in the face of 44 who must straddle the line between city building and ward defending. Sometimes these two roles not only don’t jibe but are in direct opposition to one another.

Which may explain some of the palpable anger and discontent at the debate last night toward outgoing councillor for ward 19 and mayoral candidate, Joe Pantalone. He was accused by many of non-responsiveness and unilateral decision making. Perhaps this was always the case but I can’t help thinking that as a high ranking official in the Miller administration, Pantalone stopped looking out for the concerns of those who had elected him while he was concentrating on the bigger picture of Toronto as a whole.

A city of this size and diversity cannot be properly represented by one official and a handful of councillors who are secure enough in their ward positions that they can attend to wider city matters. We need another municipal level of government (yes, I said another level of government) whose sole purpose is for the greater good of the city and to coordinate its place within the entire GTA region. A Board of Control, say, elected from the ashes of the former cities of Toronto, York, East York, North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke. Call it, oh I don’t know, Metro Council. But this thing with a mayor and 44 fiefdoms doesn’t really seem to be fully functioning.

It’s a dilemma I’ll be facing when it comes to deciding where to cast my vote for ward 19 councillor. On one hand, there’s Karen Sun. From her, I get a sense of someone looking to contribute to the building of a better city. That’s not to say she won’t stand tall for the people of this ward. She just seems to have a bigger vision. One that goes beyond the Trinity Spadina border.

On the other hand, there’s David Footman. Having just encountered him last night, it would be presumptuous of me to make sweeping generalizations about his campaign but what I saw at the debate (and read from his campaign literature) is a bull terrier in defense of ward 19 and the people living here. Mr. Footman very likely possesses thoughts about the city in its entirety. Upon first impression however, his strengths seemed to be very much local, on the ground.

Toronto voters should not have to make such a choice. Or rather, there should be a second option. To vote for someone like David Footman whose primary job is to look after our neighbourhood needs. And to vote for Karen Sun as our representative for matters encompassing the entire city. Such a system was in place back before we were all one city. Nothing about amalgamation has ameliorated the situation to the point where we don’t require a similar set up again.

undecidedly submitted by Cityslikr

Life On The Streets

September 27, 2010

Off the top of my head, this weekend saw the following list of events in, on and around the streets of Toronto: the Waterfront Marathon, Word on the Street, PS Kensington, a grand opening at the Evergreen Brickworks, Harvest Day at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, the last weekend home stand for the 2010 Blue Jays. And that’s just off the top of my head. Next weekend comes Nuit Blanche and Picnic at the Brickworks. That’s before I put any thought into it whatsoever.

City’s that are in the kind of dire, downward spiral shape as Toronto’s being depicted by four of its mayoral candidates seldom display the vibrancy on show this past weekend. They’re usually too busy dealing with matters of urban decay to put on a host of festivities. Or maybe Toronto’s simply whistling past the graveyard; playing and cavorting while the city burns. Rather than expend its energy and precious resources making whoopee, it should be concentrating on fixing the basics like streetlights and potholes. That whole Rudy Giuliani Broken Windows approach to city building.

False dichotomy aside, the question begs to be asked. When was the last time you came home from a place you’d never been before and that really caught your fancy, and the impression it made most on you was, the street surfaces were impeccable? That’s not to say infrastructure maintenance is unimportant. It’s just not the difference between merely a livable city and one that is exceptional.

In an interview last week, architect and author (Cities For People), Jan Gehl said, “The number one attraction in any city isn’t the buildings, the parks, the sculptures or the statues. It’s people.” What we witnessed and took part in here over the past weekend was gatherings of people. Thousands and thousands of people running, mingling with authors, drinking overpriced beer and eating overpriced pulled pork sandwiches. Together. We congregated at various locations throughout the city not only to enjoy the events but to be a part of them with others. That’s what happens in dynamic, lively cities.

So when Rob Ford pronounces that events like the Waterfront marathon should be moved from the streets and into parks for the sake of relieving traffic congestion, he displays a staggering, life-killing amount of ignorance about what makes cities actually work. Never mind that he seems preeningly boastful about not even knowing that the marathon was happening on Sunday – a suggestion to Councillor Ford? Maybe if you used some of your office expenses to keep your constituents updated with what’s going on around the city, you might learn a little something yourself – his knee-jerk pro-car stance reveals a mind utterly out of step with the trajectory of how 21st-century cities should be evolving. He is a 1950s man campaigning 60 years behind the times.

Ditto, all those candidates simply mimicking his regressive, throwback views. You’re floundering because you’re simply offering up a pale imitation of the real, Paleolithic deal. The city’s already outgrown your antiquated ideas of how to help it, build it. The people out on the streets, participating in all the things Toronto has to offer, are waiting for you to catch up.

chastizingly submitted by Cityslikr

An Unholy Alliance

September 26, 2010

Oh, what polls will do to some people.

With panic breaking out in the streets at the prospect of Rob Ford becoming Toronto’s next mayor, some arm twisting and politicking has begun in and around the campaign. The question is: Should Anyone But Ford (ABF) really be Everyone For Smitherman (EFS)? The Toronto Star is all over that idea with articles on both Thursday and Friday touting George Smitherman as our only saviour from the gruesome fate of a Ford victory on October 25th. This pissed off a Twitter-sphere of Rob Ford fanatics who called out bias on the Star which is funny coming from a group of people getting their news from the Toronto Sun. And each other.

But as much as it pains me to say, I have to agree with the Fordites on this one. Not so much on the bias angle although, I will admit, that the Star was front and centre in vilifying the Miller administration and hounding Adam Giambrone into political exile. No, this time I’m in agreement with people I seldom agree with on the idea of EFS. What’s your thinking on this, Toronto Star?

I know anywhere from 55-60% of us here can’t even begin to get our heads around the notion of His Worship Rob Ford. Everything that is within our legal, democratic power needs to be done to avert that inevitable train wreck. But what’s the idea of everyone else stepping aside for George Smitherman?

The man has run a shitty, shitty campaign. His numbers began to drop almost as soon as he officially declared himself a candidate and he’s done nothing to stem the flow. Instead of standing back aghast (like most of us) as the Ford campaign began to gather steam, and hold on tightly to the centre/centre-right vote (as big a presence as Rob Ford is, ideologically he occupies a small fraction of the small  ‘c’ conservative vote), Smitherman rushed to embrace him. This only served to legitimize Ford as a viable political entity.

Smitherman had profile, money and this election from the very beginning was his to lose. So far he’s proceeded to do just that. His campaign’s performance has been so bad that it stuns me to think the man ever won an election. Yet, the good people at the Toronto Star want to reward such incompetence by insisting that everyone else now pack it in and allow Smitherman to blunder on?

On top of which, there are those of us on the left side of the spectrum who might not cherish the prospect of a two candidate, far right-further right battle for mayor. At least not with over a month still to go before the election. This call to anti-Ford order under the EFS banner feels a little premature, and not half calculated to prop up a sagging campaign that has done little to warrant the kind of strategic consideration being asked of voters.

Take a deep breath, Mr. Hepburn, Ms. Doolittle and everyone else over at the Toronto Star. It’s not time to pull the ripcord on this yet, let alone start worrying about the reserve chute. Just because you’ve pushed the panic button and are demanding we fall in behind your candidate of choice, a few of us out here still think there’s a lot of game still to be played and George Smitherman hasn’t proven to anyone but you that he’s the go-to guy.

cucumber coolishly submitted by Cityslikr