It Just Feels Right

September 1, 2010

Lets’ go back to the beginning.

No, not that far back, wherever you found yourself thinking ‘the beginning’ was. Just to this past January, the fourth of, I believe. When the official municipal campaign 2010 kicked off and we all were looking forward with trepidation at having to elect a new mayor. There was anger out there in the hinterlands but who could’ve guessed exactly how much?

Me? I wasn’t a fire breathing silly socialist. If you remember correctly, I was sitting comfortably in the centre, perhaps a little rightish of there. Don’t believe me? Check this out. (Those were much shorter posts back then too, weren’t they. When did we become so full of ourselves?) An admitted John Tory supporter back in `03 who might not have ruled out voting for him again this year if he chose to run despite having misgivings about his stumble through the provincial political arena throughout much of the past decade.

However, I did not develop a hate on for the man that beat him in 2003 and whom I voted for in 2006, Mayor David Miller. The city did not seem like the cesspool we were being told it was. Problems needed to be fixed, certainly; none more so than our aging public transit system, the once venerable TTC. Even that didn’t seem all that out of reach, what with Transit City up and ready to go. I considered myself a Miller convert and was sorry to see him go.

Leaving us with…?

A mad, maddening rush to the right. In some circumstances the surprisingly far right. Much chatter about privatization, outsourcing public services, cuts, cuts, cuts.

Why?

Simple solutions offered up for complicated situations despite what H.L. Mencken (no bleeding heart liberal himself) once said: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. In other words, if it were as easy as all that, it would’ve been done already. Unfortunately, few of us are immune to the lure of the snake oil salesman.

In place of concrete ideas, those looking for our votes pitched divisions. Left versus Right. Car versus bikes. Suburban versus urban. Everything that was wrong with Toronto could be traced back to those at City Hall, ignoring any outside factors that weighed heavily on us. Negligent and sometimes hostile senior levels of government. An economy that for the past two years nearly tanked and since has barely sputtered along. Continued pains of enforced amalgamation that did not magically disappear by executive fiat.

None beat the drum of discord louder than Etobiocoke millionaire councillor and laughably self-proclaimed ‘Man of the People’, Rob Ford. His noisy entry into the race and subsequent overtaking of perceived front runner, George Smitherman, had everyone scurrying worriedly to the right. Rocco Rossi was already there. He had to dig in deeper. Smitherman, figuring that bombastic Ford had no real constituency in downtown circles, threw caution to the wind and abandoned the centre to scrape away whatever soft right supporters he could. Ford’s extreme right views allowed both Rossi and Smitherman to adopt stances that would make someone like John Tory uncomfortable. Defying all electoral logic, the three amigos are desperately trying to divvy up the right wing pie, leaving their left flank wide open and virtually undefended.

Again, why?

Because they think they can. Reading Jeff Jedras’ post on the long arms registry tug-of-war in his BCer in Toronto, it seems there are no negative consequences in pandering to a conservative base. To not do so, in fact, is to risk an electoral fiasco. This conventional wisdom (i.e. mainstream media) has it that flipping the bird to the left has only an upside.

Leaving us here in the mushy centre with only one real alternative, Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone.

Oh Joe. You should be delighted with how this is all playing out, alone among the leading contenders, to tend to the left of centre garden without fear of having to give up so much as a speck of land to any interlopers. There are those of us out here who don’t think the city’s in such dire shape that it needs a good short, sharp shock of neoconservative home brew. (Isn’t that exactly what amalgamation was?) For every one of those who believe this election’s solely about “money, money, money”, there’s an equal contingent thinking that’s a rather myopic view of how to build a city. Embrace us, Joe. Take up the fight.

Not that he hasn’t tried. It’s just that Pantalone isn’t a strong campaigner. He’s nice. He’s quiet. He’s approachable. His strong suit seems to be behind the scenes where it is said he can be as tough as nails. A 30 year track record of working with mayors, running the wide political spectrum from Art Eggleton to Mel Lastman and David Miller, and time spent on the former Metro Council, reveal a non-divisivenes in Pantalone. He’s a uniter not a divider, as he’s stated, which may be another reason he’s the odd man right now.

Who knows. As election day closes in on us, everyone may snap to attention and realize that fighting tooth-and-nail for one side of the political spectrum may not be the best strategy. It certainly hasn’t been in the past. Otherwise, unless Pantalone can successfully scoop up a good portion of the centre/centre left citywide – or someone else breaks out big time — we will elect a mayor with a dangerously low percentage of the popular vote. And if you think Toronto’s polarized and divided now…

trepidatiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat


The Debates Drone On

June 16, 2010

Walking out from Trinity St. Paul’s church… er, Centre after the latest mayoral debate, I was accosted by a young fellow who stepped in front of me, blocking my path and demanded to know if I was Rocco Rossi.

Now, I have been called a few names in my time that were not my own, many better, most much worse, but never one this curious. Was I Rocco Rossi? If I’d been quicker on the uptake, I would’ve acknowledged that, yes in fact, I was Rocco Rossi but I had no time to stop and chat since I’d just stolen Sarah Thomson’s wallet from her purse and needed to make a quick getaway. That would’ve got the Twittersphere a-buzzing.

I could then take my act on the road, doing a little door-to-door canvassing under the name of Rocco Rossi, not so much campaigning as panhandling, begging for money, claiming that my fundraising had dried up since Rob Ford entered the race. I’d accept non-cash donation as well. A nice hot meal would be nice because I was so very, very hungry.

Oh, the things I’d do if I were the pretend Rocco Rossi.

Aside from that unusual ending, the debate itself proceeded pretty much as expected except that George Smitherman was absent who, it would appear, no longer needs to debate his opponents now that China has anointed him Mayor of Toronto. Taking his spot up on stage was Howard Gomberg, one of the 24 or so “other” candidates officially registered as mayoral candidates. How the evening’s hosts (a series of Bloor Street West business improvement areas and residents associations) decided upon Gomberg remains a mystery. The debate moderator, Gus Sinclair, began to explain the selection process but then simply didn’t and moved on to the candidates’ opening remarks.

This only increased my cynical suspicion of nefarious motives in choosing Gomberg to warm George Smitherman’s seat. An actor, improv-ver, spouter of New Ageism and all round genial old guy who wows the audience with his beat poetry/raps, Gomberg might be just the candidate to scream “Fringe!” loud enough for everyone to simply ignore all the other outsiders as cranks, pranksters and jokesters. None worthy of further consideration.

That Mr. Gomberg acquitted himself to the degree of not being an embarrassment was a good thing. Aside from injecting a little levity into the proceedings, however, he didn’t bring much to the table but, at least, he was not the clown prince. How could he be, what with Rob Ford sitting beside him?

Clown, buffoon, gas bag and blowhole. All these descriptors of Ford come easily but they don’t actually do justice to the monumental ignorance the man displays in terms of governance. It’s all about customer service to Ford; answering phone calls, filling potholes, putting name tags on city employees. There’s a paucity of imagination in the man (and presumably his rabid followers) that is simply staggering. Every time he stands to speak or rather, vent, H.L. Mencken’s quote immediately springs to mind. For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Of course, Rob Ford merely delivers the populist, grassroots version of the same song and dance sung by candidates Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson. Much of the evening’s talk was of fiscal responsibility, getting our financial house in order, running a tight ship, profligate spending and taxing. No degree of counter-argument penetrated their discussion.

Councillor Pantalone claimed that under the Miller administration municipal spending had risen less than government spending at either the provincial or federal levels. No matter. We must get our fiscal house in order before going to the senior levels of government, cap-in-hand. But the provincial and federal governments just posted $20 billion+ and $50 billion+ deficits respectively. They are hardly the paragons of financial probity that Toronto needs to be justifying itself to. Cities aren’t allowed to run annual operating deficits, Pantalone points out. Immaterial. Until we get serious about cutting taxes and spending, we cannot expect other levels of government to take us seriously.

So it went in circles. Ideology trumping informed debate which was especially discouraging last night as the audience largely brought their A-game, posing questions about land use development, population density strategies and socially inclusive gentrification. For his part, Joe Pantalone engaged in a thoughtful, deliberate manner, most of the time. But it’s a difficult slog as he doesn’t possess an orator’s power of persuasion, coupled with the fact his opponents were mostly content to talk trash and shit, brushing Pantalone off with the school yard taunt of Miller Lite. (No. I most certainly am not Rocco Rossi.)

Bringing me to a most unsettling conclusion: Giorgio Mammoliti came across as the evening’s most intriguing candidate. Setting aside for the moment all the man’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, he struck me as someone who genuinely is searching for a way to make this city better and more vital. Yes, his thoughts and plans drifted in and out of lucidity and he says sinister things like, I know where the money is, but he seems like a candidate who is not set in a rigid belief system. This leads to many a contradiction (even within a single statement) and backtracking which could well be a very solid indication that he doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about. Yet, on this night at any rate, it felt refreshing, popping up as it did in a sea of unyielding certainty and blinkered absolutes.

Or maybe I’m already desperate, clutching at straws, waiting and hoping for someone to step forward and give me one good reason to think that dark days don’t lie ahead for Toronto.

not yet but close to fearfully submitted by Cityslikr