Vision Quest II

September 24, 2010

The journey continues.

Up this week: Sarah Thomson!

I must write this quickly as rumours build of Ms. Thomson’s imminent departure from the mayoral race. Or maybe not. Maybe in two weeks. But then again, maybe not.

Which encapsulates her candidacy perfectly.

When I initially saw Sarah Thomson at a live debate all those months ago, I was immediately reminded of the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. After she expresses outrage at the personal nature of some of the questions asked during her job interview, the crusty Mr. Grant tells Mary that he thinks she’s spunk. When Mary mistakenly takes that as a compliment, Mr. Grant barks, “I hate spunk!”

Now replace the word ‘spunk’ with ‘pluck’ in order that I stop giggling like a grade schooler, and that’s how I best describe Ms. Thomson. She’s got pluck. She left home at the age of 15 and by the time she was 30, Ms. Thomson had made herself a small fortune, “turning around failing service stations and making them successful” by getting them to sell chips and stuff and not just gas and oil. She then went back to school, got herself a degree in English and philosophy which she used to begin a new career of buying rundown houses, renovating and then flipping them, I believe the term is. Moving on from there, Ms. Thomson then took on the mantel of ‘social entrepreneur’ and started up the Women’s Post media empire in 2002.

Pluck by the bucketful.

And all very Horatio Alger which could only be made more storybook perfect with a successful run for political office. So Sarah Thomson screwed on her pluck and set her eyes straight for the top. She would become mayor of Toronto!

I mean, how hard could it be to a person who’s turned service stations around and made old houses new again? What’s a city if not a place full of old houses waiting to be flipped and stations of services in need of a little entrepreneurial giddy-up? If you treat the levers of governmental power like a business then, dognabit, the levers of governmental power will start behaving like a business. And isn’t that what we all want from our government? For it to be just like a business?

There were two very likely fatal flaws in this thinking of the Sarah Thomson campaign. One, actually government isn’t just like a business. Two, there were a couple other candidates thinking just the same thing. One had bigger name recognition and the other had more money to spend.

So Ms. Thomson veered rudderlessly from fiscal conservative to social progressive, trying to recreate the John Tory formula except for the non-winning part. It even went so far as to have a couple of the Tory offspring on her team. She tried presenting herself as a no-nonsense business manager who would ferociously cut to the bottom line while maintaining a beating heart toward all the things that made a city great. Arts and culture. Architecture, heritage and forward-thinking urban planning. That the two impulses have never quite meshed into a seamless vision was not the fault entirely of Team Thomson. The exact problem has plagued both the George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi campaigns as well.

Sarah Thomson boldly introduced the idea of road tolls into the mix. Unfortunately, the implications of her idea weren’t well thought out. In addition to which, it was part of a transit plan that insisted on building subways. That Ms. Thomson as recently as last night’s debate was rethinking the matter and publicly admitted that the planned LRTs might be the best way to go goes as both a credit to her personally but a detriment to her campaign. She appears willing to listen to others and reposition herself accordingly which might make for good mayoral material but undercuts her campaign by making her look like a wishy-washy flip-flopper.

Taking us to the overarching problem of Ms. Thomson’s candidacy. Perhaps she should’ve taken the time to ground herself more thoroughly in the issues facing Toronto before jumping into the fray. Pluck was simply not going to be enough. Too many times during debates, she was caught flat-footed and at a loss for answers. Responding to questions about urban planning and design, she constantly said, “I love Jane Jacobs” and little else.

Well, everybody loves Jane Jacobs, Ms. Thomson (except for maybe Rob Ford). So what? An inability to follow up on that epitomized a candidate who hadn’t really thought much past the platitudes and therefore couldn’t generate a base willing to believe she was up to the task of running a city.

So, perhaps prematurely but quite possibly long overdue, R.I.P. Thomson For Mayor. You were plucky. Everybody hates pluck.

crustily submitted by Cityslikr