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


Political Genius Genus Evil

November 1, 2010

In the afterglow of Rob Ford’s surprisingly convincing mayoral victory last week came the inevitable outpouring of ink and bytes about the whys and hows of his win, complete with a revelation of a “dirty tricks” controversy. Actually, let’s call it more of a contretemps or set-to, to lessen it slightly from such a harsh moniker but mostly to cement my downtowner elitist status. Kelly Grant’s exhaustive piece in the Globe and Mail revealed a campaign team that was highly disciplined, relentless in ferreting out where its support was, tireless in punching the divisive hot-button issues that set the agenda from Ford’s entry into the race.

While I hesitate to use the word ‘genius’, as its constant misapplication drains all meaning from it, for my purposes here, let’s do so. Political genius. Eliciting the question, why does so much political genius manifest itself as the evil variety? Squandered as it is, attempting to make silk purses from sows’ ears, foisting upon the voting public candidates clearly unfit for office and out of their depth. George W. Bush. Sarah Palin. And now, Rob Ford.

Imagine if the likes of Lee Atwater (may he be roaming swelteringly the halls of Hell still), Karl Rove and now the boys of the Rob Ford brain trust applied their significant skills to the betterment of society rather than to the detriment of it. But, of course, that instantly answers the above question. They have no interest in contributing positively to society. Their political genius comes from having to mask that simple fact. On a mission to drive back the gains made for the greater good by FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s War on Poverty and PET’s Just Society (or any other government intent on making life a little fairer and more equitable), they dance and sing populist songs, with generically uplifting titles like Respect For Taxpayers while exemplifying none of it.

They are the political ‘Hidden Persuaders’, Vance Packard’s 1950s term for the marketers and ad men who convinced the public that cereals were the only breakfast food, cigarettes were the epitome of cool with health benefits to boot, and that consuming more of everything than we needed put us on the path of enlightened happiness. We applaud them for doing their jobs well, for convincing us to go against our best interests and better instincts and buy into a truly toxic, detrimental world view. Yep. They got us to put the shotgun barrel in our mouths but, damn, were they smooth!

I have little doubt that Rob Ford, like George W. before him on Ronald Reagan before him, truly believes that government in all its forms is the source of much that is wrong in society today. Raised on the teat of neo-conservatism with his beloved late father a small part of the Common Sense Revolution, Ford may be many things but disingenuous about his politics does not seem to be one of them. He is the perfect spokesman and front man for the movement of the privileged class to be embraced by a big chunk of the population that shares absolutely nothing in common with it.

What’s even more remarkable about this political sleight of hand is the timing of the current version of the trick. Economic calamity brought on by overly zealous free marketeering combined with governmental lapse of judgment and negligence of duty. Crushing private sector debt piled into the public purse, followed by immediate calls of out-of-control government spending and demands for cutbacks and rollbacks. A mere two years after a deep lingering recession brought on by neo-liberal/conservative politics, we’ve already internalized the counterintuitive belief that only neo-liberal/conservative policies and politicians can dig us out of the hole they helped us dig. It is truly a bravura performance, delivered by masters of their profession who should be richly rewarded for their outstanding efforts in pulling such a feat off.

Except that, they are amply enriched by the narrow interests they serve and protect. Except that, inevitably they’re much better at campaigning than they are governing and tend to leave big, heaping piles of steaming crap in their wake. Except that, society is that much worse off because of what it is they do, the dark arts they practice.

You can admire, even applaud, those whose brilliance is obvious even though their purpose is contemptible. The great villains are always our favourite characters. But what we really have to stop doing is handing them the keys to power. They aren’t in it to make the world, the city, the neighbourhood a better place for anyone else beside themselves, and those sharing their perspective, regardless of how much they try telling us otherwise.

People who use their talents for evil should not be expected to do good. It’s not in their nature. We need to stop expecting anything else from them. Experience should’ve told us that a long time ago.

full of goodnessly submitted by Cityslikr