Another Debate, Same Old Tune

July 21, 2010

With another televised mayoral debate under our collective belts, I do not think it hyperbolic (in the non-mathematical sense) to say that this city is now facing a crisis of confidence, leadership confidence. What seemed funny back in March became mirthlessly laughable by May. Now, more than mid-way through July and it’s simply just sad. And a little bit worrisome.

Yeah, it’s that bad, folks.

At moments like these, I try to settle my rattled nerves by knocking back a few stiff belts of Woodford Reserve over an a.m. bowl of honey coated Shreddies and convince myself that if we made it through the Mel Lastman years, hell, we can make it through anything. We are that strong. We are that resilient.

But this feels a little different, and not in a ticklish, I kind of like it way. It’s more ominous and disheartening. Thirteen years into this experiment we call the amalgamated city and it seems like we’ve learned nothing, processed no information, become none the wiser through the experience of past accomplishments and mistakes. Those endeavouring to assume Toronto’s top office have surveyed the landscape, examined the books and come to the exhaustive conclusion that what ails us most is a… spending problem.

It’s all about out of control, unaccountable, retirement party spending. End of discussion. Full stop. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone. Vote For Me!

To give Councillor/Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone his due, he did try offering up a variation on the theme. (No, not his charts.) He raised the spectre of tax revenue inequality among the various levels of government, pointing out that for every tax dollar a Toronto resident spends, 92 cents of it leaves the city on its way to either Ottawa or Queen’s Park but it was a conversation the others didn’t want to have. Pantalone was summarily shouted down by all 4 of the others, braying in unison: We have a spending problem!

That’s it. The full extent of the conversation. The alpha and omega of the debate. A paucity of thoughtful, provocative ideas and views, best exemplified by Rocco Rossi. I know you thought I was going to say Rob Ford but what would be the point? He’s a Johnny One-Note that only surprises by his extraordinary ability to bring every issue, regardless of how irrelevant and beside the point back to Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. I’m pretty sure that’s how he plans on cutting 22 council seats. Anyone who attended the party is gone.

Yet in his own way, Rossi’s no better. He might not turn as beet red as Ford but he manages to spout similarly inane nonsense. Near the end of last night’s debate, he looked into the camera and bludgeoned us with the power of absolute numbers, saying that the present mayor inherited a 6 point something billion dollar operating budget and this year? (Stare deep into my eyes those out there in TV land and listen to the gravity I summon in my baritone voice.) 9 point 2 billion dollars.

Wow. That’s a lot of money. We really do have a spending prob—Wait a second. Might there be any explanation for such a significant rise in expenditure? Let’s see, for the past 18 months, 2 years, there’s been that little recession thing. The biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression with government expenditures at all levels exploding in order to head off an even bigger calamity. So there was that. Plus Transit City, the largest expansion of public transportation in Toronto for decades, making up for previous regimes’ neglect and building those bridges Mr. Rossi talks so movingly about to underserved areas of the city. A little cash outlay was needed for that.

The spendthrift argument Rossi et al put forward de-contextualizes the situation, pulling Toronto out of the reality it operates in for purely political purposes. No real viable solutions are put up on offer. Just hot button topics to raise the hackles of outrage among the electorate.

So whatever audience there is for the debate tunes in, turns off and drops out. We’ve been hearing the same drivel for 6 months now and we’re not biting. Sure, Ford’s made a splash upon entry but he basically siphoned support away from the others. The largest number still remains in the undecided column. The prix fixe doesn’t do it for me. Can I order a la carte, s’il vous plais?

Unfortunately the media maitre d’ remains firm. This is the slate of candidates we gave you, dammit, pick one of these! Given the opportunity of Giorgio Mammoliti’s exit from the mayoral race to open up the field of choice, CP24 declined last night. Brushing off calls to include Mammoliti’s pick to replace him, Rocco Achampong, they said winnowing the debate down to 5 would help simplify things as if they weren’t already doing that with Ben Mulroney MCing the proceedings.

This led to accusations of racism since Achampong is black and every one of the front runners is white. Let’s try and, if not represent the diversity of the city here, at least make a passing nod to it. While not ignoring that point, I do think that it’s part of a bigger problem at work here.

We are a small organization and yet over the course of the last few months have uncovered 5 or 6 other candidates running for mayor who are at least worth a first look at. Some aren’t white, some are. None are saying anything crazier than Rob Ford; all are talking a lot more sense. If we can find them certainly big news gathering conglomerates like CP24 or CTV or CBC or the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun can too. Talk to them. Interview them. Introduce them to the public. That is your job after all, is it not?

Here, let me give you a list of names to get you started: there’s Rocco Achampong. (Check the spelling though.) HiMY SYeD. (Ditto.) Sonny Yeung. (Pronounced just like our main north-south street.) Keith Cole. (He’s gay just like George Smitherman.) George Babula. Andrew Barton. Wendell Brereton. Colin Magee.

These candidates are only fringe because you guys declared them so. Well, given those who you said weren’t and who were on display on CP24 again last night, I’m not sure we should trust your judgment on this. We’re not liking what we’re seeing and suggest it’s time to turn the channel. Or at least, give us more to choice to choose from. What we are seeing here is the deliberate muffling of democracy and the handcuffing of voters. A prospect even more frightening than a Mayor Rob Ford.

End of discussion. Full stop.

ire drawingly submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate XX

July 9, 2010

Rainy days on Fridays always make me… want to read Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

This week a special double feature: Giorgio Mammoliti & Rocco Achampong!

OK, so we’re not going to really spend much time on the former mayoral candidate, Giorgio Mammoliti, as he’s withdrawn from the race and is heading back to seek reelection as councillor for Ward 7. But as we wrote here earlier this week, when Mammoliti announced that he was exiting he expressed hope that Rocco Achampong would have a greater presence in the campaign. Ostensibly, Mammoliti was endorsing Achampong to take his place along side the 5 other front running candidates.

How effective this endorsement of legitimacy will be is hard to tell. It came from Giorgio Mammoliti after all. A candidate very few took at all seriously which is why he is no longer running for mayor. It’s difficult to imagine why the remaining front runners would welcome a new face into the midst given the difficulties most of them have had mustering a whole lot of support and enthusiasm for their respective campaigns. Aside from Rob Ford that is, and he may welcome anyone up on stage with him who isn’t Giorgio Mammoliti, a constant thorn in Ford’s side and aggressive caller out of Ford’s steady stream of bullshit.

But Mammoliti’s attempt to shine whatever light he had on Achampong will make it increasingly difficult for debate organizers to continue ignoring the other Rocco. CBC’s Metro Morning picked up the thread almost immediately, interviewing Mr. Achampong the very next day. CP24’s next mayoral debate is schedule on July 20th. Has an invite already been extended to Rocco Achampong?

For our part, despite having already profiled his candidacy a couple months ago, we’re going to accept Giorgio Mammoliti’s challenge and do our first ever re-profile here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

As we wrote here earlier about Mr. Achampong, he has all the tools to be a very compelling candidate. He is articulate, passionate, confident and has a great biography. Born in Ghana, he came to Canada with his family at the age of 9 and grew up in one of the toughest, poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto, managing all the obstacles inherent in that environment to work his way through to becoming a lawyer. He was very politically active while at U of T, serving as both president of the Black Students’ Association and the Students’ Administrative Council. It is a resumé fit for a career in politics.

And yet, we remain underwhelmed. Having seen and heard Rocco Achampong a couple times since we wrote the first profile, nothing he’s said has alleviated our concern that his platform is built on the flaccid legs of empty rhetoric. When talking to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday, Mr. Achampong spoke of a need for a mayor who was not “a person reciting from rote from a political handbook”. We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Achampong. So would you mind closing up that political handbook you’re reciting from?

The Issues section of the (other) Rocco for Campaign 2010 website shows a candidate who is very concerned with social matters. Transit, housing, job creation and culture all figure prominently. But it still lacks some need to know specifics. Mr. Achampong wants to freeze TTC fares for two years and add subways to Transit City. Where’s he going to get the money to do that? Ditto the doubling of grants to city cultural and arts groups. Great idea. Where’s the money going to come from?

None of which would be all that troublesome at this juncture of the campaign (especially since the other leading candidates have similar gaping holes in their platforms) but we find it hard to gibe these noble intentions with the anti-tax/anti-City Hall sentiments that shone through Mr. Achampong’s kick off speech back in February. Many of his words could’ve just as easily emerged from the mouths of Mssrs. Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Ms. Thomson. While Rocco Achampong may be a fresh face on the campaign trail, his ideas most certainly aren’t.

This isn’t to suggest, however, that Rocco Achampong is not ready for and hasn’t earned a shot at mayoral primetime. He may fit in a little too neatly for our tastes. The race is in desperate need of someone of Mr. Achampong’s intelligence and perspective. There is no reason whatsoever that he continue to be ignored as future mayoral get togethers are organized.

And if not Rocco Achampong, why not HiMY SYeD? Or Colin Magee. Or Sonny Yeung? Or Keith Cole? Or Wendell Brereton? Or George Babula? There are plenty of interesting choices out there. Let’s get the opportunity to explore them.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate XVI

June 4, 2010

It’s Friday and time for another edition of Meet A Mayoral Candidate! But not just any old edition. A Better Ballots Mayoral Debate Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

As some of you regular readers will already know, we attended Tuesday’s mayoral debate, hosted by the good folks over at Better Ballots, and wrote about it here on Wednesday. There was talk of the general atmosphere at the event, how it was the first debate of this campaign that opened up to the wider swath of registered mayoral candidates past just the anointed frontrunners and, ironically in hindsight, how those same frontrunners fared during the course of the evening. We decided to talk about the “other” candidates in a separate post, here today.

Was the segregation necessary and did it serve to simply perpetuate the completely arbitrary division that’s keeping lesser known candidates from gaining wider public exposure? Yes, perhaps. But in our defense the post on Wednesday bordered on being unreadably long. If we had made it any longer with fuller coverage of the “outsider” candidates, no one would’ve read it anyway and they’d all be back at square one, wallowing in obscurity. With their own post now, there’s every possibility that one, two or maybe all of them will break out to be a serious contender on So You Think You Can Be The Next Mayor of Toronto?©®™

Owing to an online poll conducted by Better Ballots last month, candidates Rocco Achampong and Keith Cole earned themselves the right to share the stage on Tuesday with the other “regular” six. Neither Achampong nor Cole fluffed their opportunity to be looked at for further serious consideration. From our vantage point, both men easily fared better than at least 2 of the other candidates on stage.

Not that this should be surprising to anyone paying attention. For Mr. Achampong’s part, he has more hands on political experience than either Rocco Rossi or Sarah Thomson, having been president of both the Black Students’ Union and the S.A.C. during his time at the University of Toronto. No small feat the latter, as he had to contend with an often times fractious 50+ member council.

What was surprising was Achampong’s stagger out of the starting gate, given his political background and the fact that he is a lawyer who, presumably, argues cases in front of an “audience”. He clearly underestimated the 1 minute time limit (strictly enforced) candidates were given and delivered a fuzzy, rambling opening statement that was breathlessly finished in an attempt to get every last word in. That behind him, Achampong settled in nicely, playfully jostling with the other Rocco, and appearing far more prepared to talk about the electoral reform issues on hand than almost all the other candidates on stage. I would advise Mr. Achampong to refrain from quoting obscure theologians in the future for fear of stumping most of the audience although the baffled look on George Smitherman’s face when Achampong mentioned William of Occam may have been worth it.

In his e-vite to the sweaty soiree that Keith Cole sent out, he expressed concern that his appearance at the debate “…could either be fabulous or a train wreck – or a combo of both. A Fabulous Train Wreck!” Well, no worry as Mr. Cole’s appearance on stage tilted heavily to the former. Again, not that surprising as he is a performer and very obviously comfortable on the stage. He brought lightness to the proceedings and sense of fun to battle the room’s heat. When things got a little testy between two other candidates, Cole delivered a tasty bon mot.

“Tonight started out as a cocktail party and it’s become a family reunion.”

More than the merry prankster, though, Mr. Cole brought a couple things to the stage that should not be overlooked. One, was a sense of humility as he confessed confusion at a number of the proposals that were being discussed, asking that the other candidates to explain it for him. At one point, Sarah Thomson obliged but it was clear that many of the others on stage were equally at a loss at times but none had the nerve to admit that publicly. Secondly, Keith Cole displayed a love of this city none of the other candidates did. Sure, they might love to be mayor or love the politics of a campaign but no one expressed the degree of enthusiasm for Toronto that Cole did and he deserves to continue to be heard because of that.

After this debate, if anyone suggests that it was all fun and games, the fringers had their shot in the spotlight but now it’s time to get back to the serious business at hand and let the “real” candidates (or as the Toronto Sun phrased it, “quality declared candidates”) continue flailing away at one another, they are simply attempting to quash outside voices and a much wider discussion about this city’s future. If you’re going to refer to the likes of Rob Ford, Sarah Thomson, Giorgio Mammoliti, Rocco Rossi as “quality declared candidates” – and I’m being unusually generous not including George Smitherman on that list – Keith Cole and Rocco Achampong have earned a spot amongst them.

And not only Cole and Achampong. While we were surprised that less than half of the other 20 declared mayoral candidates used the opportunity of the debate to introduce themselves in a one minute statement, there were some who struck us as deserving a closer look. As the son of an Irish immigrant, Colin Magee spoke very eloquently and concisely about the need for extending the municipal vote to permanent residents. George Babula fought through an apparent case of severe stage fright and talked enough sense to earn a further hearing. And we highly encourage everyone to check out HiMY SYêD next Tuesday as he pushes off his campaign. He killed on Tuesday with his line: “We’ve sent enough Cowboys to City Hall, Now, It’s Time for an Indian.” Who wouldn’t want to hear more from him?

Despite the Better Ballots move toward a wider candidate inclusivity, the “official” debates continue next week in their sanctioned format. Only Frontrunners Need Appear! Making matters worse is that debate on Thursday is going to be moderated by the ultimate mayoral media darling, John Tory who, mysteriously, is still being wooed into entering the race. So we’re back once again to independent voices and ideas being shut out of the race. That is not good for democracy. That is not good for this city.

So we say, let’s boycott all future mayoral debates that remain the sole domain of illegitimately designated frontrunners and lazy media favourites. Let’s stop allowing nebulous entities to arbitrarily dictate to us some pre-approved list of who we can listen to and vote for.

Boycott! Boycott!! Boycott!!!

stridently submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part III

March 5, 2010

Another Friday and another Meet A Mayoral Candidate post.

This week: MageeForMayor!

His name is Colin Magee and he is located in Toronto. According to his bio: The great only appear great because we are on our knees let us rise!

… after that, we got nothing.

It seems that what we’re dealing with here is a political campaign driven exclusively by Twitter. We could find no website, no other contact info. We can’t even be sure if there’s an actual person involved or simply a Twitter account. (Although.. although we’re intrigued by such a notion. No candidate. Just an account. The platform is formulated, added to and modified by a web of users. 21st-century participatory democracy at work, folks!)

To be fair, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are nothing short of raging incompetents in the field of social networking technology. All pertinent information may possibly be out there, easily accessed with a simple thumb click on a link that we remain oblivious to. So don’t write MageeForMayor off on our account. Maybe someone reading this can uncover more details and let us know.

What we did discover as we lurched clumsily through the MageeForMayor Twitterworld is that MageeForMayor likes listening to Social Distortion and The Clash with a beer on a spring day. (Has that going for him.) He tweets in rhyme. (Less impressive.) He announced his candidacy for mayor on January 7th and met with his campaign team in mid-January and again in early February. It seems that MageeForMayor was upset about the Adam Giambrone debacle. Since mid-February there’s been silence. Again, very possibly owing to our ineptitude rather than a lackadaisical approach by MageeForMayor.

It wasn’t all a total bust, our time a-Twittering. While there, we stumbled across a vibrant cyber politico-scape©™®. Groups using the internet to communicate and to arrange non-virtual gatherings of like-minded, tech savvy folks who are passionately committed to the well being of this city.

We were already aware of activists like Dave Meslin who use the internet to promote various causes including reform for fairer proportional representation in our elections with projects like Better Ballots. Through links at MageeForMayor we came across #voteTO, an online based organization that, in its own words “is a grand experiment in attempting to endow a virtual body with real-world political presence.” These are engaged (largely younger) citizens not ideologically driven, looking to contribute toward the betterment of the city where they live, work and play.

This is a deep, untapped, online well that offers a new and important method of public discourse and exchange. Serious candidates seeking political office in Toronto cannot simply ignore it especially those who have not been anointed and pre-ordained by the mainstream press as frontrunners or viable contenders. We too, following the proceedings from the sidelines, are missing out on an underground(swell) of support for new ideas and visions that will be heard in the not-too-distant future.

And think a Twitter political campaign demeans and diminishes the process, old man? Our leading contenders for mayor are already abiding by the 140 character rule. Cut! Cut!! Cut!!! Sell!!!! Sell!!!!! Sell!!!!!! Kick Union Ass!!!!!!!

Nailed it with 71 characters to spare!

This week we’ll answer our own pathetic question we’ve been posing to mayoral candidates. If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Colin Magee like to see his legacy written?

Wait for it.. wait for it…

Mayor Colin Magee made everyday feel like a warm spring day, listening to Social Distortion and The Clash with a beer in hand for every Torontonian.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr