Designed To Fail

November 2, 2010

So it seems that for all the much ballyhooed campaign brilliance of Rob Ford’s successful run for mayor – setting the agenda with a simple message, identifying and targeting supporters, blah, blah, blah – what it really came down to was… a-hem… spending more money than he actually had on hand. Hmmmm. Fiscal irresponsibility. The irony of that is so thick and deep it brings on a case of the dizzies. I guess it’s not wasteful spending if it achieves the desired goal. Something the mayor-elect’s City Hall opponents should constantly point out every time he proposes to take an axe to municipal spending.

Yet for all the tactical glory and financial profligacy that pushed Mr. Ford over the top last Monday, I think there’s an equally as important lesson to be learned from the failed candidacy of runner-up, George Smitherman. As we wrote here yesterday, Kelly Grant’s article in last week’s Globe and Mail profiled in great detail the inner workings and personalities that made up the Rob Ford campaign. A day earlier in the same paper, John Lorinc did likewise but much more dirge-like with Team Smitherman. The details are revealing and should give much hope to those still in shock at the looming prospect of Mayor Rob Ford.

If Ford’s campaign was run with nothing short of brilliance and savvy, the Smitherman camp matched it step for step with disarray and ineptitude. Lorinc presents us with a candidate who abandoned his core political position, not decisively or with any sort of conviction, but almost based exclusively on whatever pollster or strategist had his ear at the moment. And there seems to have been a lot of pollsters and strategists working on Smitherman’s campaign.

“From the start, Mr. Smitherman’s basically centrist instincts posed a challenge for his campaign. Some advisers, citing an early internal poll showing surprisingly strong support for Mr. Miller and the progressive approach, argued for a left-leaning campaign. Others wanted Mr. Smitherman to lean right, promising, for example, to privatize garbage collection.”

“Polling data showed the city was deeply split over Mr. Miller’s record. But Mr. Smitherman and his brain trust couldn’t decide which side of the urban divide they wanted to win over. When they finally placed their bets, it was too late.”

Reading those two quotes from Lorinc’s article makes me wonder how George Smitherman even placed a distant 2nd in the mayoral race. It was all cold calculation and cynical adaptation to the prevailing winds of fickle polling data. Where was the fire? The passion? The conviction?!

Does a ‘centrist’ politician actually stand for anything or is it simply a code word for doing and saying whatever has to be done and said to get elected? As represented by George Smitherman and Dalton McGuinty and Michael Ignatieff, the latter seems to be case for the modern Liberal politician. Core principles have been replaced by the desire to achieve power at any cost. It leaves them rootless and prone to getting blown over when faced with a stiff wind howling in from a well-grounded (even if unscrupulously so) opponent. Thus, the Smitherman campaign went tumbleweed.

Here was a politician who’d been an MPP for 10 years and worked in the backrooms at the municipal level before that, utterly devoid of any sort of political belief system beyond simple being elected. Presented with data suggesting a divide in the city between those viewing the city as being on the right track and those thinking it had derailed, George Smitherman and his team simply rolled the dice to determine which side would be the winning one! Mr. Smitherman and his brain trust couldn’t decide which side of the urban divide they wanted to win over.” Ahhhhh, maybe go with your gut on this one, George? Which side did you think needed to be won over? Which side needed to be won over, not for you to become mayor, but to make sure this city headed in the direction necessary for equitable and sustainable growth and prosperity?

On the plus side of this story, it suggests that Rob Ford won the election not solely because of some groundswell of anti-government, grassroots support that wants to tear up streetcar tracks and raze City Hall. There is that faction, certainly, but Ford’s victory can also be chalked up in part to his main rival not showing up to fight. A candidate who adopted a rope-a-dope strategy without the ability to land a counterpunch knock-out blow. An opponent with a constituency of one. His own electoral success.

George Smitherman’s own numbers indicated there was a solid progressive base to build on in Toronto. Not only did he choose to ignore it. He helped diminish, ridicule, marginalize it, losing his wager in the process.

Those now marshalling their forces in anticipation of the upcoming battles with the new mayor should take a lesson from that. You are not alone in the fight. There is no need for capitulation. Standing firm and not abandoning your principles is not only good advice to live by but it also may be a winning strategy. One a brave member of George Smitherman’s phalanx of advisors and strategists should’ve stepped up and got their candidate to try running with.

silver liningly submitted by Cityslikr