A Mayoral Catch-22

March 20, 2014

I was mulling over Edward Keenan’s piece in The Grid yesterday about, well, fringe mayoral candidates, thinkinganddrinkinglet’s call them for lack of a better heuristic when, don’t you just know it, up pops the news that former candidate Sarah Thomson is planning another run at the mayor’s office.

You know Ms. Thomson. Barely cracked double digits in the 2010 race before throwing her lightweight weight behind the eventual 2nd place finisher, George Smitherman. Then ran something of a spirited campaign for the Liberals in the 2011 provincial in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, giving the long time incumbent Rosario Marchese a bit of a scare. Sarah “Transit” Thomson who basically took her one good idea from 2010 – road tolls – and built a platform of self-promotion around it. Yeah. That Sarah Thomson.

As I write this, Thomson showed up at City Hall this morning in a horse drawn red wagon to register. Whatever. But it does provide me a nice little segue into a larger discussion about fringe candidates.

Next Wednesday CityNews will be holding the first televised mayoral debate of the 2014 campaign. cinderellaAll 5 “major” candidates have signed on to participate, according to the announcement. Olivia Chow. Rob Ford. David Soknacki. Karen Stintz. John Tory.

Will a 6th podium be added now for Sarah Thomson? If so, why? Because she ran previously? Because she organized events around regional transit problems? Because she owns a publication? Because all this combines to give her public standing?

On the other hand, if CityNews doesn’t extend an invitation to the debate to Ms. Thomson, why not? Why do they get to make that decision? Who determines which candidacy sits beyond the fringe and which one doesn’t?

Mr. Keenan seems to suggest that’s it’s kind of an organic process. “As with any job — in this case, the CEO of a $10 billion-a-year organization responsible for millions of peoples’ daily necessities,” Keenan writes, cv“the hiring criteria includes significant experience and demonstrated abilities as much as anything else.”

There’s certainly some truth to that. In Toronto, it’s been the case for pretty much forever that the only way to the mayor’s job is through city council. Mayoral hopefuls have traditionally put in time as councillors first. No outsiders need apply.

“Putting together a successful campaign is actually a pretty good proxy for many of the attributes you need to govern,” Keenan continues, “managing a staff and volunteers, inspiring people to work on your behalf, raising funds, and engaging in a public debate that convinces citizens to put their trust in you and your plan. The press will pay close attention to candidates who show they can do that on a citywide scale. And so will voters.”

Again, certainly true, but for me, really only half of the equation. “Managing a staff and volunteers…raising funds…engaging in a public debate” are essential but none of it just appears out of the blue. All that’s easier said than done. Without an established name or easy access to money to buy yourself one, outside candidates have to work doubly hard (at least) to get their name and ideas out there. backroomI am troubled by that notion.

What I see is a slate of candidates that is presented to voters on the basis of money and influence. Prominent, backroom donors, well-worn campaign strategists, political party apparatchiks, all cajoling, tempting and eventually signing on to work for candidates they deem acceptable to run for mayor. These are your candidates, Toronto. Now, vote as you see fit.

And the media, especially media outlets that wind up hosting mayoral debates and forums, are complicit in this heavy-handed winnowing of the field. Only candidates from the given slate are invited to participate. Why? Well, because these are the ones voters want to hear from? Why is that? How does the media determine that? Look at the polling numbers, we’re told. Numbers derived from polls featuring only the non-fringe candidates’ names.

It’s a pre-determined, closed loop. An iterative process with only a handful of appointed variables, ultimately ending up with the choice from pick one of the above. closedopensystemNone of the above is never presented as a viable alternative.

Look. The 2014 campaign is about two and a half months old. Candidates have been registered since January 2nd. Yet, only after Olivia Chow — who everybody knew was running — officially entered the race last week were we informed that the official debates would begin. I’m not alone in finding the timing a little fishy, am I? It feels like the fix is in.

Instead of hashing and rehashing the will he or won’t he/when will she narrative and pursuing the HMS Destructive tour of the current incumbent, maybe a little time could’ve been devoted to listening to some of the other candidates for mayor, suss out their fitness for the job. In early February the U of T Scarborough student union held a mayoral forum that featured the mayor, David Soknacki and 3 of the fringe candidates. footinthedoorThe Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale covered it and, in his opinion, declared that one of the 3, Robb Johannes just might’ve won the debate.

So why hasn’t Mr. Johannes been invited to participate in the CityNews’ debate? Based on the observation of an experienced City Hall reporter giving his candidacy some legitimacy, what must he do to be given a shot at proving himself worthy of further consideration?

In 2010, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke ran some 30 or so Meet A Mayoral Candidate posts throughout the campaign. Admittedly, most, a high percentage of them, rightfully deserved the fringe label. Remember, anybody with $200 to spare can run for mayor. It was hard to tell why many were in the race. A lark. Mere attention seeking. Misguided sense of direction.

But a handful of them were thoughtful, interesting and dedicated to giving their time and energy to the city. Hell, we ended up endorsing one for mayor when all was said and done. Not every fringe candidate should be viewed fringe simply because they don’t yet have money, resources or influence.musicalchairs

And I would argue that this time around, there are even more potentially serious fringe candidates then in 2010. The subject of Mr. Keenan’s article, Ari Goldkind, immediately strikes me as somebody worth listening to. Matt Mernagh. Jeff Billard. Richard Underhill. Morgan Baskin. The above mentioned Robb Johannes.

Are any of these credible mayoral candidates? I don’t know. But who the fuck am I to blithely brush them off before giving them a chance to hear what they have to say, deliver their plans and ideas to a wider audience?

“You don’t need the press to legitimize your candidacy,” Keenan informs the fringers. “Only your campaign can do that.”

That sentiment seems hopelessly and impossibly pollyannish or unaware on Keenan’s part; neither adjective I’d normally attach to him. Yes, we can all look to Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi as living, breathing proof that an unknown entity can come out of seemingly nowhere to score an improbable victory. ignoreOutsider candidates should look to Nenshi to see how exactly he and his team pulled that off. But to point to that very, very rare example and conclude it’s all about a little innovative DIY, and that somehow the media’s exclusionary practices to all but the few anointed candidates doesn’t play into the fringe determination of the many, that only truly viable candidates will earn a place in the spotlight, I think ignores just how a vast majority of the voting public gets their information and processes it in determining what way their support is going to go.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr


Comfort In Career Politicians

March 10, 2014

There’s a political slur that can be slung, usually to beef up the slinger’s populist cred, in order to denigrate an opponent. careerpoliticianCareer politician. A trough feeder. A sucker of the public teat. Only in it for themselves.

Some politicians will accuse other politicians of being career politicians. Councillor Doug Ford likes to toss it around in defense of his brother the mayor, a guy who’s been at City Hall for coming on 14 years now. Nearly a third of his life.

The term must have some perceived impact with enough of the voting public to be useful to the politicians using it. Yet, when all is said and done, we sure do love our incumbents. Given every opportunity to throw the bums out, more often than not, we stay with the tried and true. Change is risky. It could turn out worse. The devil you know, and all that.

Look at our current race for mayor here in Toronto. The designated front runners include the above-mentioned mayor, a councillor who’s been in office for a decade now, another candidate’s been flirting off and on with political office for ten years and a former city councillor and budget chief out of the game for eight years. If this gaggle doesn’t represent career politicians, then the term is utterly meaningless.

In all likelihood, these are going to be the candidates we’re talking about well into the fall, leading up to the 0ctober 27th election. sameoldsameoldIf any unknown challenger tosses their hat into the ring, a political outsider that apparently voters so love, they’re pretty much going to immediately be considered fringe. The unfortunate but necessary detritus of a free and open election process.

You got $200? Step right up and register. Nobody’s going to pay you much heed, though. Thanks for coming out.

Unless of course you’re an 18 year-old high school student who raised your entry fee with babysitting money. You may have heard of Morgan Baskin already? AM talk radio certainly has.

Yeah, I know. Everybody rolls their eyes, shrugs their shoulders and automatically writes her off as a novelty candidate. Come on. She’s 18. What could she possibly know about running a city?

And just like that, we dismiss the outsider and jettison our demand for change. We talk a big game about term limits and new blood but when the chips are down? brandspankingnewFingers crossed! Let’s hope John Tory runs again.

Listening to Ms. Baskin’s radio interview last week, she came across as articulate, passionate and pretty tuned in to what’s been going on in the city. While her embryonic website is full of broad stroke ideals and a little short on details right now, it is still only March and is hardly out of place with many of the other mayoral candidates’ on-line efforts so far. I mean, have you taken a look at Mayor Ford’s re-election website?

You get the feeling that if Morgan Baskin was subject to a weekend municipal governance and policy boot camp, she would be right at home with the current front runners. Arguably, she’s already capable of keeping up with the non-Soknackian pap coming from all the other big names. I mean, I haven’t heard her say anything resembling Growing A Better Tomorrow yet, have you?

During the last municipal campaign in 2010, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke spent much time covering the “other” mayoral candidates. In fact, one of us ended up endorsing Himy Syed. Trust us, there are plenty out there fully deserving of the fringe label. There’s no discernible reason why they’re in the race other than vying for whatever public attention they receive. fringecandidatesPublic attention they wouldn’t get otherwise.

Still, who am I to judge their motivations?

Again this time around, amidst all the truly eyebrow raising candidates in the race, there are a couple, in addition to Morgan Baskin, who deserve more than a cursory glance. Robb Johannes made a very good impression at a Scarborough mayoral forum in February. Matt Mernagh seems to be more dimensional than just a medical marijuana advocate. Richard Underhill has a very thorough and thoughtful campaign platform at this early stage of the race.

All of these candidates, I’d have to ask why their interest in civic affairs starts at the top job. It is a complex position, the 6th largest government in the country, overseeing an institution that delivers services and programs to over 2.5 million people. Why would we possibly trust you to manage a $14 billion annual budget? afraidofchangeBabysitting money’s cute but maybe you could explain to me that nature of debt servicing, and the trade-off between less money for stuff now and having more stuff later.

That said, we gleefully handed the keys to the mayor’s office to a man-child based on 10 years of spotty city councillor performance and a vague attachment to a family business. How’d that work out for us?

We love the concept of political newcomers in theory but seem to shrink from acting on it when we ultimately mark our ballots. All talk, no action. If we were really serious, we’d at least hear the neophytes and fringe candidates out and give them significant consideration before retreating back to known territory. At the very least, we’d modify what we mean by being on the fringe.

outsiderly submitted by Cityslikr