Getting The Ball Rolling On Project 23

August 5, 2011

Glorious monuments and grand architecture do not make great cities although they certainly give them a certain air of grandeur. No. What makes cities great is the positive civic life they nourish and build. Accessible and affordable public transit for all neighbourhoods. Inviting public spaces that draw you into them. An open environment that enables an engaged interaction between people from all walks of life.

(Shawn Micallef writes about this much better than I can. Go read him. You’ll see what I’m trying to get at.)

Such civic mindedness in Toronto is now under attack by Mayor Rob Ford and a cadre of determined anti-urbanists and rigid ideologues. For them, running a city is nothing more than the bottom line. Making do with paying less (unless of course user fees are factored in). Their view of city life comes from out behind a car window or over the fences of their backyards. In their eyes, the role of municipal government boils down to just two things: personal safety and clean, drivable roads. End of discussion.

This should come as no surprise from the mayor. He’s said it over and over again, and voted that way over and over again during his 10 years as councillor. His anti-government views have been right there in the shop window for all to see.

Views we need to stop thinking will ever change no matter how reasonable an argument or passionate a deputation Mayor Ford’s forced to sit through. No more wasting our time and energy attempting to do so. Here’s some descriptors that immediately come to mind when writing about the mayor: intransigent, incurious, indefatigable in the certainty of his cause.

So far, the Mayor Rob Ford has surprisingly managed to corral 25 councillors to his city demolition cause at least 50% of the time on important votes (as I read Matt Elliott’s scorecard over at Ford For Toronto). Some have been easy to sway as they share a similarly hidebound neo-conservative orthodoxy. Others have been cowed into following marching orders through the use of bully tactics while another segment are simply political opportunists, basking in the glow of power or blowing with the political winds. Then there are those councillors who have left no lasting impression as to why they’ve signed on to the mayor’s agenda. Could you speak up a little, councillors Crawford, Crisanti and Grimes? We can’t hear you.

This Legion of Doom has wielded power very, very effectively although small cracks in the alliance are beginning to show. Ford diehards like Speaker Nunziata, TTC Chair Stintz and Councillor Pasternak have openly disagreed with the mayor on different matters recently. None, however, have defied his wishes much when it’s come to council votes.

Yet it may point to the fact that Mayor Ford’s council support is soft. Remember, he needs 22 councillors to push through his agenda, and 25 is razor thin. All it would take is a slight nudge here, a little cajole there and suddenly the mayor’s on the losing side of votes.

Thus, let me get the ball rolling here on Project 23.

Too often, it seems to me, councillors are able to operate under the radar. Of course there are those who seek a higher profile because they are good at it, media savvy or have their eye on a bigger prize than just being a mere councillor. We all know who they are. But hands up those of you who aren’t City Hall junkies who have heard of the following names (aside from this post): Ana Bailão, Michelle Berardinetti, Josh Colle, Gary Crawford, Vincent Crisanti, Frank Di Giorgio, Mark Grimes, Norm Kelly, Chin Lee, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Ron Moeser, Cesar Palacio, John Parker (not including Twittergate and helping to kill the Jarvis bike lanes), Jaye Robinson?

Some of these folks are brand new to the job and are still finding their political legs. Others are the strong, silent constituent type who stick close to home and work diligently for their ward. Not everyone can be a council superstar.

But some go about their business happily out of the spotlight in order to avoid scrutiny. It’s hard to keep tabs on what they’re doing, how they’re voting and, most assuredly, why they’re voting the way they’re voting. In such self-imposed darkness they are able to avoid being held responsible when the chips are down, to support something one time and vote against it two years later without having to justify their change of heart.

There are a lot of wards out there to hide in, far from the media glare. Even during election campaigns if you’re seeking to duck coverage it can be done. The resources aren’t there to thoroughly cover all 44 ward races plus a mayoral campaign. This is one reason incumbency and name recognition means so much at the municipal level.

With Project 23 I want to start attaching faces to names on all our councillors. To leave no stone unturned or murky corner for any councillor to skulk silently in. We want each and every councillor to be held accountable for the decisions they make, the votes they take. We’ll be watching you.

How can this be done, given even big media conglomerates have trouble staying on top of every ward and councillor in the city? Well, that’s where it gets tricky. I barely manage to keep content a-rolling here even with what little assistance I receive from a couple layabout contributors. On top of which, I sometimes can’t remember how to turn the computer on in the morning. Technology is not my forte.

But I envision a website, a little spot of cyberspace, with the working title, Project 23: Council Watch. There we will have information on every councillor in every ward of the city. What’s happening with each one at City Hall. How a councillor voted and why. (I’m thinking of what Matt Elliot is doing at Ford For Toronto when he presents video coverage of the deputations at last week’s Executive Committee meeting. We can show councillors speaking at council meetings about why they’re voting the way they’re voting. Or if they speak up for themselves at all.)

Interactivity will be key for Project 23. It has to be a place where people in each of the city’s wards can report what’s going on where they live and how the decisions their respective councillors make are affecting them. Many of those who signed on to the vaunted Ford Nation are only now realizing exactly what the mayor and his wrecking crew mean when the talk about respect for the taxpayers and ending the Gravy Train. Project 23 should be a place where they can have their say.

That is the thrust of Project 23. Making sure everyone who we elected to city council is aware of the fact that their decisions will be known, will have consequences. They will have to answer for them come 2014.

Consider this. Vincent Crisanti won Ward 1 by just over 500 votes. Gloria Lindsay Luby won Ward 4 by just over 300 votes. Peter Milczyn won Ward 5 by just over 100 votes. Anthony Perruzza won Ward 8 by just under 400 votes. Maria Augimeri won Ward 9 by 89 votes. James Pasternak won Ward 10 with just 19.2% of the popular vote. Frank Di Giorgio won Ward 12 with just over 27% of the popular vote. Jaye Robinson won Ward 25 by just over 500 votes. John Parker won Ward 26 by just over 500 votes. Kristyn Wong-Tam won Ward 27 with 28.3% of the popular vote. Paula Fletcher won Ward 30 by just over 200 votes. Gary Crawford won Ward 36 by just over 400 votes and with 25.2% of the popular vote. Ron Moeser won Ward 44 by under 200 votes. Even Team Ford’s quarterback, Giorgio Mammoliti, only garnered 43.8% of the popular vote in Ward 7 even after his high profile, unsuccessful campaign for mayor.

Many close votes, an awful lot of just unders and just overs, my friends. Many sitting councillors are not sitting pretty. Twenty of the council seats as well as the mayoralty were won by margins of less than 50% of the popular vote. Any little shift in public opinion will force them to sit up and take notice. Let’s start making them sit up and take notice.

That is my goal with Project 23. So let’s begin making firm plans via the interwebs and in-person get-togethers during the month of August. Let’s aim to have things up and going come fall when Team Ford attempts to get down to the business of eviscerating the civic life of Toronto. We need to assist those councillors who will be fighting to defend the city and, perhaps more importantly, make it known to those intending to travel down the mayor’s path that we’ll be watching them.

In the words of Flavor Flav, let’s get this party started right.

feistily submitted by Cityslikr