Could Be Worse

I had hoped to begin the new year on a peppy, upbeat note of resolve, to scan the horizon and spot evidence of a better 2015 than 2014. Look, guys. upbeatWe actually did hit bottom. There is nowhere to go but up.

But somewhere during the search for signs of hope and civic sunshine, it dawned on me that yesterday, January 4th, was the fifth anniversary of the very first post here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. (Don’t ask how those two things intersected. It’s hardly an organized and linear organization we’ve got going on.) Tory! Tory! Tory! was the title. A plea at the outset of the 2010 municipal campaign for a certain John Tory to remain on the sidelines in the mayoral race. “Stick with radio, John,” we advised, “where we can continue to ignore you.”

raspberrySMASH CUT TO: (or maybe a slow dissolve, if I actually knew what that was) January 5th, 2015.

Mayor John Tory in a helicopter, high above the city, on the look out for parking scofflaws and ne’er-do-wells.

*sigh*

I mean, jesus fucking christ.

It occurs to me, nearly half a decade into this enterprise, that maybe it’s just not in this city’s DNA to come to grips with the grind down stuff that currently ails us. Congestion, under-performing public transit, aging and crumbling infrastructure, not to mention matters of housing, poverty and income inequality, summon up a whole bunch of let’s do more of the same and hope for better results. Some time, back in the foggy mists of the past, a workable, functional if not exactly exciting city was built. restingonourlaurelsIt worked. People came. The place thrived.

What Toronto hasn’t done is adapt. Arguably, for the past three decades, we have sat on our hands, looked the other way and hoped for the best. Staring up at all the towers carving out our skyline, we collectively sighed a self-satisfied sigh. World class!

In reaction to easily the most destructive and derelict administration the city had ever foisted onto itself, we settled for some throwback to an earlier era of dysfunction. Our new mayor was very well acquainted with the Mel Lastman years at City Hall. Sure, he’d gussied up his resume with right proper public service works like Civic Action yet put all that behind him in his second quest to be Toronto’s mayor. A moderate progressive, he sold himself as, or something similarly banal.

He won’t embarrass us! A rallying cry to mollify rather than actually rally us. Inspirational? I don’t know. Do you find the repeated use of the word ‘bold’ inspirational?

Not that there was much inspiration on display from any of our leading mayoral candidates in 2014 which, coming in the wake of the unmitigated Ford fiasco, says something of our civic constitution, I fear. sotiredCan we just have a little peace and quiet for a bit? Competence is what we crave. The big issues can wait while we catch our collective breath.

As we press pause, the wheels of dubious governance keep on turning.

Over the weekend, a Toronto Star opinion piece laid out in gory, gory detail the ongoing mess of a debacle that is shaping up to be the Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. ‘Another ‘billion-dollar boondoggle’ author R. Michael Warren asks, pushed forward for nothing other than political reasons by our new mayor, the premier of the province, dutiful Scarborough government MPPs, opportunistic and resentful city councilors. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. hopeforthebestEverything will work out just fine.

It’s not actually going to fix much from a transit prospective, probably make some things worse in fact, but aren’t we all just tuckered out from all the bickering? We’re done here. Let’s move on. No good can come from reopening old arguments. I mean, that’s how we ended up with this Scarborough subway, am I right?

Look. It could be worse. Rob Ford could still be mayor.

Yes, it could be worse. It could be worse should become our new city motto. It Could Be Worse, Our Strength.

It Could Be Worse is a lot easier to maintain than It Could Be Better, takes a lot less effort. I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to say that, with only a couple exceptions, It Could Be Worse has pretty much been Toronto’s approach to running things for 30 years or so now. It’s not great. It’s not innovative or ground breaking. But, it could be worse.couldbeworse Can I get a recorded vote? It could be worse. All in favour?

So we muddle into 2015. It can’t possibly be worse than 2014 or the couple years before that. While some think about tackling the big issues we face like poverty, Mayor Tory makes a spectacle of chasing down illegal parkers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it could be worse, right? The mayor could not be dealing with illegal parking.

Buck up. Granted, it’s not much to hang your cape of hope on, thin gruel with which to build an optimistic, hopeful New Year’s message. Still. It could be worse.

philosophically submitted by Cityslikr

Left To Their Own Devices

From Jon Caulfield’s The Tiny Perfect Mayor (1974):

This fatalism was shared by many reform leaders and candidates themselves. For the press, at fund-raising parties, at rallies and public meetings, they were mostly all capable of bursts of optimism…But pressed privately in ones and twos, they were often unsure, their confidence watery. Because their movement was, at root, a fragile marriage of convenience drawn together only by informal networks of key individuals, communication among them was haphazard, and fragmentary, in some cases nearly non-existent; for the most part they had no way of knowing about the progress of campaigns outside of their own parts of town.

Forty years on, this passage struck me as still wholly relevant when looking back through the ashes of the 2014 municipal election campaign, an election where the old guard of all political stripes ran roughshod over its competition.steamroll

Nobody who seriously throws their hat into the ring to become a political candidate can do so without at least a sliver of belief they can win. No matter how small a sliver, how big the odds, how steep the uphill climb to victory might be, there’s always a chance, remote, outside or not. Otherwise, you wouldn’t dedicate the time and energy necessary to mount even the most basic of campaigns.

In late October, I heard through the grapevine that such-and-such a candidate was, according to internal polls, within striking distance of such-and-such an incumbent. Candidate X had jumped into an improbable lead in Ward Y. In the end, neither rumour of glory came close to being true. A respectable showing would be the best one might claim of the results. Pretty much throughout the entire city.

By their very nature, election campaigns are built on hard work and false hopes. rubbertreeplantThere will always be more losers than winners but for a democracy to remain vibrant, everyone thinking about a run for office has to believe that that this time is their time. You can apply other metrics to what constitutes a successful campaign – increased voter turnout, say, — in the end though? Well, close only counts in horseshoes and grenades. Or, as a springboard to another crack at it four years hence.

Perpetual optimism mixed with battle worn realism.

When I met up with Idil Burale a couple weeks back, pretty much a month after her run for a city council seat in Ward 1 Etobicoke North, there was a lot more realism than optimism in her take on how things had gone. A very promising challenger to one term councillor deadweight, Vincent Crisanti, Burale finished a disappointing 5th place in race where Crisanti increased his plurality from 2010 simply by being the Fordest of Ford supporters in one of the Fordest of wards in the city.

It should’ve been so easy. A terrible, do-nothing incumbent versus a brand new voice of the community. Faced with such a clear option, how could Ward 1 voters not jump at the opportunity to make a change?

Yeah well, funny story…davidandgoliath1

First, a declaration of interest on my part.

I met Idil a couple (three?) years ago, at some event or another that led to us hosting an evening to talk about the urban-suburban divide. I (along with a few hopeful others) gently encouraged her to consider a run in 2014 election. When she finally decided to take the plunge, I was involved early on in the campaign, helping with content, messaging. I even timidly and awkwardly knocked on doors as part of two or three canvasses.

Everybody was cautiously optimistic, I think. Winning the thing wasn’t the be-all. If Idil could even just affect the conversation during the campaign or get out the vote in a ward that had the lowest turnout in 2010, it could still be considered a success.

In the end, I don’t know if even those modest goals were achieved. Like every other ward in the city it seems, the only conversation people wanted to have was about the mayor’s race. rollingrockI’m not alone in asserting that the 2014 campaign was essential a mayoral referendum. Rob/Doug Ford, yes or no? Everything else at city council could be fixed in editing.

That said, I don’t think it’s an unfair assessment of the Burale campaign to suggest that it never really gelled into a smooth running operation. There were personnel problems, mostly of the kind that there were never enough people to do the jobs that needed to get done. In the end, Burale thinks they knocked on about 80% of the doors in the ward which, as impressive as it sounds, isn’t nearly enough.

The general rule of thumb is that a successful campaign needs to hit every door at least 2 times, maybe 3 when all is said and done. Despite our hope and belief in advanced technology, campaigns are still won and lost on the ground, real live bodies going out to meet real live people, once, twice, three times, driving them to the polling station on election day if need be to make sure they vote. Without those troops, there isn’t the necessary voter outreach. Candidates unable to swamp doors in their wards remain unknown entities with no name recognition factor.

This points to perhaps the biggest problem the Burale campaign faced. There simply wasn’t enough community support at the local level at the beginning of the campaign. trekDowntowners (like me) formed a large part of her team in the early going.

It’s an especially acute problem for wards in the inner suburbs. Ward 1 sits in the most north-westerly spot in the city. Without local support, people able to get to a canvass meeting spot in 15 minutes, half an hour rather than an hour and a half, 2 hours, it’s difficult to amass a regular, reliable team of volunteers. Without a regular, reliable team of volunteers, well, you tend to finish in 5th place.

Idil also picked up very little ‘institutional’ help. By this I mean the party and riding association machines that always play an integral part even in officially non-party municipal campaigns. For whatever reasons (and I am certainly privy to none), there was no backing from either the ward’s Liberal MPP or MP thrown her way. Despite receiving the labour council backing, Burale found herself competing against an unofficial NDP candidate.goodluck

There may well have been good reasons for that situation but the fact can’t be ignored if an outsider candidate remains on the outside, the odds of them running successfully remain very long.

No amount of social media adoration is going to change that. Burale was one of a number of challengers, especially out in the suburban wards, who garnered a lot of Twitter attention along with endorsements from both old and new media, only to see it not translate into electoral success. Martyrs to the progressive cause, fueling our sense of wonder at what’s wrong with people out in the suburbs.

Turns out, you can’t just flick on the civic engagement switch come election year. Wards like Etobicoke North aren’t imbued with a history of strong citizen activism in their local governance. What groups there are don’t seem particularly connected or, in the words of Jon Caulfied in describing the early-70s City Hall reformers, ‘informal networks of key individuals’.diy1

There was no fertile grassroots base for a challenger like Idil Burale to draw on. Without enough outside or institutional help to make up for that, she was left to fend for herself against the power of incumbency. Even an incumbency of a second rate city councillor who has subsequently been appointed the deputy mayor of Etobicoke and York.

So pick yourself up, dust yourself off and chalk it up as a valuable learning experience?

Not exactly.

There was certainly something of a personal toll on Burale. Parts of the 7 month run were miserable, not at all fulfilling. So much so, at this juncture, fresh off the loss, she’s not considering another run.

A casualty to an electoral process that promotes the power of insiders and the well-connected? Change or reform doesn’t come about through the sheer strength of individual effort. We can’t pat hopefuls on the head, slap them on the back and send them out into the fight with only our high hopes and fingers crossed. overthetop1Challenging the status quo needs to be a group enterprise, uncoloured by partisan brand or parochial interests.

Candidates like Idil Burale should be applauded and congratulated for trying to roll that rock up the hill. We just have to stop thinking they can do it on their own and then expect a different, a better result in the end. That’s the definition of crazy. Crazy and lazy.

discontentedly submitted by Cityslikr

Overcoming The Power Of Incumbency — Challenger Endorsement IV

You got to dance with the one that brung ya.

theonethatbrungya

A few years back, Doug Ford suggested you can’t buy loyalty. That may be true but, looking at Vincent Crisanti’s short tenure as councillor for Ward 1 Etobicoke North, you certainly can help elect loyalty. Municipal politics followers here in Toronto can fault Vincent Crisanti for many, many things but loyalty would not be one of them. At least not loyalty to the Ford brand.sinkingship

Just last week, at the latest installment of Ford Fest, Crisanti proudly stood up on stage to introduce the mayor to the crowd in Rob Ford’s first public appearance since a medical diagnosis sidelined him from the race. The good ship S.S. Team Ford may be listing, taking on serious water, but Vincent Crisanti fervently plays on, piping its tune. The Fords made him, politically speaking, in 2010 after a couple failed electoral attempts. He clearly isn’t prepared to walk away in this, their time of need.

Go Ford or Go Home, seems to be Crisanti’s re-election bid.timeforchange1

“I am the only experienced candidate supporting a fiscally responsible, pro-growth agenda that respects you, the Taxpayer,” states Crisanti in a campaign website letter to his Dear Residents. Respect for Taxpayers, am I right? The Ford Way.

Aside from loyalty, you’ve got to tip your hat to Crisanti for playing to his strength, his one and only strength. Of course, he may not have any choice since his weaknesses as city councillor are legion. Few others at City Hall have seemed so out of their depth over the past 4 years as Vincent Crisanti has. There was no seeming learning curve on his part either. Vincent Crisanti in 2014 was just like Vincent Crisanti in 2010. Substandard and irrelevant.

You might think that would be enough to ensure defeat on October 27th. You’d be wrong. City council has more than its share of deadweight incumbents looking for another kick at the can. A while back I asked a more experience political watcher how one particularly terrible councillor kept getting voted into office election after election. “They make sure to fix 6000 fences every term,” was the answer.exclude

Give enough of your constituents the impression of competence, keep them happy sorting out fence exemptions and parking problems, and you can basically write your ticket to indefinite incumbency. More specifically, give those in the ward who are most likely to vote – older, more affluent, homeowners – the impression of serving their interests and an incumbent can become very, very difficult to dislodge. Pay lip service, at best, to those not fitting that profile.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the ward with the lowest voter turnout in 2010 ended up with the likes of Vincent Crisanti as its representative at City Hall. That also could be the key to defeating him in October. Engage the disengaged. Activate the base he ignores. New voices, new ideas, new representation.

endorsement2

Challenger Idil Burale is all that. (Full disclosure: I worked on Ms. Burale’s campaign.) She is the non-Crisanti base of support in Ward 1. Question is, will that be enough to overcome the inherent status quo in almost every election campaign? Is it possible to rally the disaffected in enough numbers to build a movement?

We featured a post on Idil Burale last month from Samuel Getachew. He certainly thinks so, seeing Burale as a real vehicle for change in Ward 1, Etobicoke and the city. We agree. That’s why we endorse Idil Burale for city councillor in Ward 1 Etobicoke North.

submitted by Cityslikr