Calling The Horserace

Is it just us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke or is everyone covering this municipal campaign running out of gas? With under two weeks to go, it seems the news is now filled only with strategy ploys, endorsements, advertisement assessments and the candidates’ personal foibles. Although, to be fair, some of the candidates’ personal foibles have played a major role throughout the entire 2010 race.

Is this an unsurprising consequence of conducting such a long, long municipal campaign?

Some 40 weeks in and the front runner’s internal polling numbers were the big news story late last week. And guess what? Team Ford has the election in the bag, his victory so big that it’s going to cause a Fordian ripple affect, causing many pro-David Miller councillors to lose their seats. Yes, uh-huh, that’s right. Rob Ford’s got coat tails.

The timing of the poll really should’ve been the story. Ford’s face is on the cover of Macleans magazine with a less than flattering portrayal of the candidate inside. His morning press conference last Friday to paint in further details of economic strategy (ha, ha, ha) is a flop. He leaves staff to answer questions from curious reporters. And then suddenly, ta-dah, as if out of nowhere, their internal poll is released — old news apparently from 2 weeks earlier — showing Ford having increased his lead to almost 50%, pointing towards a landslide victory on October 25th, and a transformation of city council into more Ford Country friendly.

Only a few news organizations ran full-fledged with the story as if it were actually newsworthy (the Toronto Sun and 640 AM on your radio dial). But it dictated the tone and space of other coverage. Was the poll valid? Should we be taking the time to even talking about it? Ooops. We just did. What were we talking about before the poll was released? Oh, right. Rob Ford’s shitty, shitty economic plan.

Yesterday, Joe Pantalone released a proposal to give community councils more say and fiscal control (thus, in theory at least, more power) over certain local aspects of the city’s overall budget. An attempt, it would seem, to bridge the disconnect people are expressing they have with City Hall. Interesting. Let’s take some time to examine it and suss out the merits and—

Too late. Out jumps a poll that suggests Joe Pantalone is nosing up on the 20% mark while Rob Ford’s numbers have dropped back down into the low 30s. And suddenly, it’s now a 3-man race! Looks like a case of Joe-mentum.

But wait. What’s the deal behind the poll? Is it even real? Pantalone campaign manager, John Laschinger, once wrote a book and there’s a quote about making up a fictitious poll in order to breathe life back into a campaign. And what about this company who supposedly conducted the poll, Logit Group? They once were commissioned by Rob Ford for his own dubious poll. Maybe he’s behind this one too, in order to cut away at George Smitherman’s own support.

Speaking of Smitherman, did you hear a handful of former Rocco Rossi staffers are now supporting him?

Truthfully, this is the first campaign that we’ve covered in this kind of depth (as shallow as it may be. You should’ve seen how uninformed we were previously). Maybe this is simply par for the course. Accusations of horse race coverage with other elections are not unusual. Marks given purely on style. Some deducted for trying to introduce substance.

Yet, it’s not too far off the mark to suggest that there has been a general paucity of ideas, a lack of that vision thing, if you will, throughout this entire campaign. The narrative structure was built on a faulty premise or, at least, a grotesquely delusive one of a free spending, insular City Hall who had lost all touch with reality and the people it was supposed to be serving. Feeding anger rather than addressing it.

Where does one take such a distorted view over the course of 10 months or so? By building bigger fabrications and offering questionable solutions to problems that exist nowhere near the degree that’s been claimed. Eventually (hopefully), reality rears its head and forces some sort of step back from the apocalypse. The artificial edifice creaks a little under the ponderous weight of heavy falsehoods and misrepresentations.

But the story is firmly set. Time to talk policy turkey is over. Candidates have found their places and it’s now all about how they finish. Can they close the deal? What are the latest numbers suggesting? I have it on very good authority that…

Rumours and speculation are easier to report and discuss than analysis. That takes time and work. Implications become more obvious in hindsight. There’ll be plenty of time for that after the fact. Four years to be precise. After we all catch up on some sleep. For now, let’s just stay glued to the race and all its crowd-pleasing machinations because it’s sure shaping up to be a real nail biter!

photo finishingly submitted by Cityslikr

Laschinger Gets His Man. Finally.

As news broke last week that John Laschinger would be assuming the chair of Joe Pantalone’s campaign team, the reality started to sink in for left wing and progressive voters that the Deputy Mayor was going to be their standard bearer in the upcoming election this October. Laschinger had guided David Miller to consecutive mayoral victories and was on board the Adam Giambrone Express that spectacularly derailed in lurid technicolour in almost record time. He then mused publicly about a possible run by budget chief Shelley Carroll.

But now he is in Pantalone’s corner and Laschinger’s status is such that it’s hard to imagine a credible candidate stepping in from the left-of-centre to mount a challenge. So it’s all Joe for Mayor in 2K10 and the excitement is, if not palpable, well… let’s just say it’s not palpable. Yet. Remember though, Laschinger took a much more obscure politician in David Miller in 2003 and helped elect him mayor of the city.

Joe Pantalone isn’t a bad candidate. He’s been a very effective councillor for almost 30 years, ably working with both sides of the political spectrum. For the last 6+ years, he’s been the deputy mayor, overseeing a massive reformation of the city as it has stumbled and lurched out of the darkness of the Harris and Lastman years towards a new, more forward looking post-amalgamation identity.

So far, however, Pantalone has been shockingly quiet on the campaign trail. Perhaps he was caught flat-footed by the virulent anti-incumbency atmosphere stirred up by rivals Smitherman and Rossi. Rather than standing up to the invective and insults hurled at the current administration – the administration he’s been an integral part of – Pantalone’s shrugged and bobbed a little, even mumbling thoughts of hiring freezes that only served to feed into his opponents narrative of a fiscally out-of-control City Hall.

It wasn’t until Mayor Miller stepped into the fray a couple weeks back, essentially calling Smitherman and Rossi liars for their deeply disingenuous representations of the city they sought to lead, that there was any perceivable pushback coming from the left. Maybe now, with Laschinger behind him, Pantalone will start being more aggressive in his own defense. He needs to re-invigorate the base who have been doubly sideswiped by Miller’s decision not to seek a third term and then the Giambrone debacle.

Nothing to do with post. Just been in the news lately.

What Pantalone can’t do, especially since it looks like he won’t have to seriously defend the centre-left terrain from another progressive candidate, is to take that vote for granted. It is a constituency that Pantalone must make sure comes out to vote on election day. Complacency is not an option especially with second tier outside candidates like Sarah Thomson lobbing grenades into the arena like she did last week with her proposals to bring in road tolls, replace LRTs with subways and a very elaborate plan for a dedicated bike lane system throughout the downtown core.

Workable or not, what Thomson’s gambit did was to reveal just how superficial and hollow the debate amongst the mayoral candidates has been so far. Sir Bitch-A-Lot and Dudley Do-Nothing have dictated the tone up until now and the razed ground they’ve created has made it difficult for capital I ideas to sprout up. Thomson has endeavoured to alter that. Joe Pantalone must follow suit or else be relegated to the category of Just Another Politician Without A Vision. Teaming up with John Laschinger may be a move in the right direction.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

Back Room Brouhaha

What I would’ve given to be a fly on the wall in the room where John Laschinger decided to join the Adam Giambrone campaign team. One of the architects of David Miller’s two election victories, Laschinger seems to have embraced another hopeless cause in chairing Giambrone’s run this time around. The face of everything that’s wrong with Toronto these days, Giambrone sports the wrong kind of name recognition and to say his path to the mayor’s chair will be an entirely uphill one is to display a firm grasp of the obvious.

So is Laschinger simply attracted to the underdogs? Miller in `03. Belinda Stronach’s bid for the then Progressive Conservative leadership in 2004. John Tory in 2007 and his tilt at the windmills to become premier of Ontario. Laschinger seems to have made a profession of attempting to snatch victory from the gaping jaws of defeat. Now add Adam to the list.

Or maybe there’s a little something more at work on this one? Is it too much to hope that there’s a back room battle royale brewing? In the murky political shadows, dueling operatives have thrown down. Feathers have been ruffled. The dander is up. Yes, this time it’s personal.

I muddy my hands in the besotted dirt of conjecture and speculation after re-reading the National Post article from last September where jowly bagman and Bay Street big shot, Ralph Lean QC publicly split with Mayor David Miller and referred to Laschinger as “… the hired help” on Miller’s campaign team. Oh no, he di’int!! This coming from the guy who was lying low when Miller was a nobody back in 2003 and then jumped on the bandwagon when Miller was a shoo-in to win re-election in ’06, citing “It would be better if we had a voice at the table to represent our views.” Who exactly is this we and our that Ralph Lean QC is talking about?

It’s hard not to see how someone couldn’t take the “hired help” retort as a short, smart slap across the cheek with a white glove. In my mind John Laschinger read it, sat back, biding his time and waited to see what candidate Ralph Lean QC would get his hooks into. With that set – Come on down, George Smitherman! You’re now a contestant on the Price Is Right!! – Laschinger saddles up with Giambrone and prepares to slay the dragon.

The move seems almost noble in that light which is not a sentiment one normally associates with management consultants and political strategists of John Laschinger’s stripe. But compared to the dismissive arrogance and doughy sense of entitlement projected by Ralph Lean QC, chairman of Cassels Brock law firm and eerie but fitting Fox News honcho Roger Ailes look-a-like, backing Giambrone comes across as nothing short of selfless on the part of Laschinger. If you don’t count the whole personal insult angle that I’ve completely manufactured.

Roger Ailes or Ralph Lean?

And it’s a no-brainer to side with Laschinger in the made up war in my mind. Whatever else you may think about the merits of professional consultants and paid political operatives, there is clearly a skill to delivering up a viable campaign plan especially one of this duration which is pure marathon, second only to the U.S. Presidential slog. You might even call it an art form.

How difficult is it to do what Ralph Lean QC does? He’s a guy who wants to cut government spending, freeze councilors’ wages and — follow the line on this – examine the outsourcing of some city functions. That’s gobblie-gook for privatization, folks, and Lean is nothing if not a spokesman for privatization, lobbying for a number of U.S. firms looking to get in on the outsourcing action.

Lean or Ailes?

A typical campaign fundraising pitch by Ralph Lean QC? “So my candidate is thinking of outsourcing some of the city’s functions.. I don’t know, garbage or tax collection, part of the TTC.. whatever. If you want on the ground floor of that, maybe you and a few of your friends might want to cut me a cheque.. ?”

The ironically surnamed Lean doesn’t even have to leave his desk to do that. The money comes to him. And oh yeah, the man’s a “… big supporter of Porter [Airlines].” So it’s not hard to imagine another round of voting to bring back a bridge or push for a tunnel to the island, errr, the Billy Bishop Airport if the new city council comes together in the shape of which someone like Ralph Lean QC approves.

It’s enough to make you want straight up, publicly funded elections. No money from anyone, individuals, unions, corporations. Financing doled out solely from the public purse. Candidates would still need the likes of John Laschinger to run for office but Ralph Lean QC and his ilk would be shit out of luck. And the commonweal would be all the better for that.

imaginatively submitted by Urban Sophisticat