The Politics of Division and Confrontation Loses A Warrior

February 7, 2011

That Nick Kouvalis has effectively left the Ford Administration so soon should come as no surprise to anyone. He/they always claimed his position as the mayor’s chief of staff was very, very temporary. He is, after all, a campaign strategist. His job was done on October 25th when he helped get Rob Ford elected mayor of Toronto. Hell, as a strategist, Mr. Kouvalis should be able to retire on that feat alone, delivering up the seemingly undeliverable on a Karl Rove-like level.

The real surprise was that he was ever made part of the official administration in the first place, let alone chief of staff. What was the mayor (or whoever does it for him) thinking? As far as I know, Mr. Kouvalis has little hands-on experience with actual governance but then again neither does the mayor. Did Team Ford simply assume that the ‘mandate’ they were given by 47% of the voters meant the mayor could just bully his agenda through with no finesse required? Stack the committees with like-minded right wingers and then intimidate enough centrish councillors into going along with the agenda.

From that standpoint, Kouvalis’s appointment makes some sense. He does bring an intimidating presence and certainly the tactic brought some early success with the easy elimination of the VRT, cutting of office budgets and a general sense that whatever the mayor proclaimed it would come to be. The death of Transit City, for one, and the birth of Transportation City.

The administration has been far less sure-footed with the budget process in general and the TTC in particular. First a fare increase. Then no fare increase. 48 bus routes to be cut. No wait. Re-allocated. Then, well, maybe not that many. 16? 41? Like they’re calling audibles at the line of scrimmage before being forced to call a time out for a little regrouping. We’ll get back to you on that.

Growing pains for any new administration should be expected and it would be unfair to demand otherwise from this one. While the ideological purity of the Ford Administration might mitigate some early missteps with everyone marching in such lockstep, the anti-government nature of this group invariably leads to gaffes and slip ups. If you’re not predisposed to govern, you’re bound to make mistakes trying to do so.

But the news last week of some serious, call security kind of tension involving Nick Kouvalis suggests that there’s more turmoil at work than simply learning the ropes. Could it be that the mayor is already realizing that the hardnosed approach is rendered less effective with a single-minded use of it? While it may work on the campaign trail, it gets tired very quickly once in office especially if your mandate isn’t as solid as you think it is. You need the occasional carrot (trying hard to resist mayor’s unfamiliarity with vegetables reference here) for the stick to be of much use.

Maybe Mr. Kouvalis’s departure is an indication that Mayor Ford is willing, in his very awkward way, to reach out to his more strident opposition. The announcement of Amir Remtulla as Kouvalis’s replacement seems to back that up. As former executive assistant to former Deputy Mayor Case Ootes, Mr. Remtulla comes with some heavy bipartisan support from the likes of councillors Joe Mihevc and Mayor Ford antithesis Adam Vaughan. “He gets the complexity of the place,” Councillor Vaughan is quoted as saying. “Amir’s not one of those people to be a bull in a china shop. He understands it’s about making the city work.”

The mayor’s new chief of staff, at least according to Councillor Vaughan, is everything the mayor and his former chief of staff aren’t. Comfortable with the complexity of governing and not bullish in a place that requires the use of deftness at times. Is it too much to expect that under Mr. Remtulla’s tutelage we may even get to hear the mayor stutter out the word c-c-c-c-c-compromise?

As much as it may go against his constitution to do so, the mayor may be starting to realize that one note, sounded over and over again, while working over the course of a 10 month campaign, will quickly fall on deaf ears when in office. With nearly 4 years still left in his mandate, he will have to change the tune to one that more than just his most ardent supporters can sing along to. That he seems willing to consider this possibility with the ouster of Nick Kouvalis and appointment of Amir Remtulla may well signal the first break in the clouds of what has been a severe cold front of My-Way-Or-The-Highwayism that’s been the signature of the Ford Administration early in the game.

kumbayaly submitted by Cityslikr