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


Post Mortem and Analysis

October 28, 2010

On the theory that there is much to talk about re: results of Toronto’s October 25 municipal election, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has assembled its crack team of observers to dissect what happened, why and what’s next. This week, well, we just said. They’ll discuss the outcome of Monday’s election.

Cityslikr (heretoforth, CS): Well, the verdict’s in. Rob Ford won and everyone who didn’t vote for him is to blame. Especially hipster urbanites who never took him seriously and spent the entire campaign mocking, ridiculing and denigrating him and those supporting him. We didn’t get the anger.

Acaphlegmic (heretoforth ACA): Truer words have never been spoken. Which is why I’ve decided to go live amongst them.

CS: What? Live amongst whom?

ACA: There you go, getting all elitist. Whom! Amongst people who say ‘who’ not ‘whom’.

US (heretoforth US): But are still OK with the word ‘amongst’.

CS: What do you mean you’re going to live amongst them?

ACA: We can’t understand a people or empathize with them until we’ve seen through their eyes, walked a mile in their shoes. So I am venturing forth to live amongst them. To observe them. To understand what motivates them. To truly get under their skin in order to grasp their hopes, their dreams.

CS: So you’re like what? Margaret Mead of the inner suburbs?

US: Try Dian Fossey.

ACA: See? That’s just what everyone’s talking about. Mocking. Ridiculing. Denigration.

CS: But I don’t get what you mean, ‘live amongst them’. You going to hang out at the Jack Astors at Sherway Gardens?

ACA: There it is again. The mocking and ridicule. They don’t just shop, you know.

US: Yeah. They have to take regular breaks to fill up their Hummers and SUVs.

ACA: Mock away, my friend, mock away but you better start getting used to the fact that you’re in the minority now and start acting accordingly.

CS: Technically that’s not true. Ford did only get 47% of the vote which is why [turns to look directly into pretend camera] you should support RaBIT, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. To start making every vote count.

ACA: Cling to that little pipe dream all you want, buddy. Me? I’m going to where the real action is. Larry’s garage.

[inserting very prominent … here to signify a monstrously large pause in the conversation. A really big one.]

CS: Who’s Larry?

ACA: Larry. You met him Monday night here, drinking. We got to talking afterwards. His son, Larry Jr., just got married, and he and the wife are moving into the trailer that’s parked in the driveway. So, Larry-pere offered me the garage. You should see this place! It’s not a garage. It’s like a 2nd home. All decked out. Like this 140” plasma screen TV. Ping pong table. Bar. You name it. A sound system like you would not believe! 4 speakers, maybe 8. I don’t know. Speakers all over the place. I have not listened to that much Foghat since… I don’t know… June of ’77, maybe.

CS: And you’re going to live there. In Larry’s garage.

ACA: You betcha! Live there and observe. Eat the food they eat. Play the games they play. Learn what it is that’s important to them. Rob Ford knows. I should too.

US: So you’re embracing your inner mullet?

CS: (to US) And you? No, wait. Let me guess. You’re moving to Calgary.

US: Well, hey. They took a bold step into the future. We fearfully clung onto… some misguided view of the past. Where we paid no taxes and there was no traffic congestion.

CS: Which brings up something that struck me about the election. There’s all this talk about the downtown-suburb divide, the angry car driving, backyard BBQing Ford supporters versus us effete bike riding, latte loving urbanistas. Yet right here, smack dab in the downtown core, we had three open council seats, none of which were filled with what you’d call new, forward thinking, vibrant Nenshites. Ward 19 went stolidly status quo, replacing old time moderate lefty Pantalone with old time moderate lefty Mike Layton, ignoring a much more interesting progressive candidate in Karen Sun. Ward 18 went hardcore centrist Ana Bailão. Ward 17 and Cesar Palacio—

US: Palacio didn’t retire, did he?

CS: Didn’t he? How could you tell? They had this dynamite challenger, Jonah Schein, but went with their tried and true non-entity incumbent relic.

ACA: What’s your point? I gotta cut out soon. There’s some sort of… sporting event everybody’s getting together to watch at Larry’s.

CS: My point is, maybe this city’s not nearly the outpost of progressive politics we downtown elites would like to think it is. We live in this little bubble, dreaming of bike lanes, complete streets and being just like Portland when, in fact, we’re nothing more than another small minded North American burg concerned only with paying as little as we can and getting as much as we want. Rob Ford as our mayor shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not the anomaly. David Miller is. He was the outlier. Ford’s just a regression to the mean.

US: Nice. Regression to the mean. Works on a couple levels, too.

ACA: Blah, blah, blah. You guys just don’t get it! There’s nothing to analyze here. Nothing to deconstruct. People are just pissed off. End of story. Rob Ford gets it because he’s pissed off too. Guaranteed!

CS: No, we get the whole anger bit. What we don’t understand is how Rob Ford is going to help in any way to deal with it. What in his platform will help lessen the anger.

ACA: Wh-wh-wh-what are you talking about? Rob Ford isn’t going to lessen the anger. The last thing he wants to do is assuage the resentment.

US: You might want to curtail the use of words like ‘assuage’ with Larry’s crowd.

ACA: Right. The last thing Rob Ford wants to do is the dumb word for assuage the resentment. Without resentment, he’s just another self-interested politician wrapping his own narrow concerns into a populist package.

US: Exactly. And what are we doing in the face of that? Caving in and taking the blame. We got out-politicked, no question. That’s what we should be examining now not shouldering the blame for the perceived grievances of 47% of the population who refused to engage in an honest discussion about the real problems this city has to deal with. We spent very little time here, writing about Ford’s appearance or operatically sized personal failings. We kept asking, over and over again, how his policies on public transit and cutting spending were going to help address the city’s problems. The response? Wrapping themselves in a cloak of victimhood like pouty teenagers. Stop picking on me. You don’t understand. The guy’s not even sworn into office yet and he’s already backtracking on one big doozey of a campaign nose stretcher about replacing streetcars with buses, claiming he never said that, his opponents said he did. Then he gives a babblingly incoherent radio interview and calls it a smear campaign, so he can withdraw further into the safe cocoon of sympathetic press coverage at the Toronto Sun, National Post and AM talk radio. We’ve seen this movie before, guys. Remember. George W. Bush.

CS: Yep. I think we can now officially stop looking south at the Americans and smugly laughing at who they elect into office. Or their eating habits. Did you see where Canada broke the record for sales of KFC’s Double Down?

ACA: (standing) Are we done here? I really don’t want to miss the first quarter… or half of the… thing.

CS: Godspeed to Larry’s garage. Godspeed us all to a Larry’s garage somewhere.

ACA: I’ll be in touch. Under an alias. Send you my serial exposé of the Ford movement.

CS: Stay safe, Serpico.

(Rolling up his collar, Acaphlegmic skulks from the office.)

CS: So, the battle for hearts and minds has just begun.

US: Fuck that. I’m traveling to the Continent. Rent out my house and follow in the steps of Byron, Shelley, Keats. They want elite? (Pulls out his pipe) I’ll give them elite.

CS: No, don’t. You’ve already set off the smoke detector once.

US: I disconnected it.

CS: It stinks. Don’t.

(Urban Sophisticat puffs away at the pipe, trying to get it to stay lit. Eventually a smoke detector goes off in the distance.)

CS: This is going to be a long 4 years.

submitted by Cityslikr


Do The Right But Not The “Right” Thing

October 20, 2010

After watching last night’s final CP24 mayoral debate this morning (man, I wish I had’ve thought of this earlier, zipping right through the commercials and Ben Mulroney segments), allow me to try and introduce, I don’t know, a long, cool drink of water to the increasingly heated proceedings. My colleagues here have, frankly, lost all sense of perspective, driven by rage, stupefaction and impotence to the verge of insanity. They refuse to accept the facts of this campaign heading into the final weekend before Monday’s election day as it has been played out .

It isn’t simply a case of “their” candidate(s) having little-to-no prospect of winning. “Their” candidate(s) never emerged, for a variety of reasons, the least of which… well, don’t even get me started on that, lest I get dragged down into the gutter of intemperate language. Suffice to say, many of us have neither forgotten nor forgiven the arbitrary determination made at some level somewhere of which candidates would be considered “viable” or front runners and which ones wouldn’t.

We have what we have. The hand’s been dealt and we must play it. Our bed’s made, now we must lie in it, perhaps to dream away the upcoming nightmare of the next four years.

Writer Jonathan Goldsbie deftly highlights the demons we, the uncommitted/undecided voters who only know that Rob Ford would be a very, very bad choice, are wrestling with. Voting with our heads may stop that train wreck from occurring but perhaps at a cost to our city that is only negligibly less harmful. Voting with our hearts or ideals, while perhaps leaving us smugly self-righteous, could well inflict a world of pain on Toronto that would take years to repair.

Adding to the frustration and increasing acrimony is the fact that the two front running candidates, one of which we are told will be our next mayor, are left to shamelessly exploit the uncertainty of uncommitted/undecided voters because neither have persuaded a big enough constituency to elect them mayor based on their own merits. If they can’t build a workable consensus with the electorate, how do they hope to do it at City Hall? How doesn’t a divisive campaign not beget a divisive administration?

After the surprise result in this week’s municipal election in Calgary, many of us watched the clip of the mayor-elect, Naheed Nenshi’s TED talk on urban issues. Inevitably, most came away from it thinking, where’s Toronto’s Naheed Nenshi? Rob Ford would watch the talk and not understand a single thing that was being said. “Calgary. Calgary’s in Alberta.” George Smitherman would think he understood much more of the talk than he actually did. “Egghead. I could take him in a 10K race.” Joe Pantalone would understood it all but not know how to articulate it to others. “It’s just like planting and cultivating a garden.”

The awful truth of the matter is, 5 days before the election, there is no Naheed Nenshi running for mayor of Toronto. Allow me, to correct that. Five days before the election, none of the 3 front runners, our only viable alternatives as we’ve been told, is a Naheed Nenshi. Toronto is facing, I won’t say a bleak next 4 years as that simply ignores the checks-and-balances in place that make up what should be considered our semi-strong mayoral system. But it will be an insular 4 years with a noticeable lack of progress towards advancing the needs of a healthy 21st-century city. That alone should cause us consternation, concern and more than a little fretting.

If I’m right about that, then the question we uncommitted/undecided voters need to ask ourselves between now and October 25th is: how do we best mitigate this downturn of expectations and limit the damage in order to be in a better shape, come 2014, to resume a more progressive and positive approach to city building? Assuming, of course, that the inevitable comes to be, and we wind up with an unwelcome and/or heavily compromised choice for our next mayor…

… A question I am not prepared to answer just yet. It’s tough feeling so coerced into hand over our lofty hopes. There’s time still to imagine that every so often, the unexpected can happen. Maybe we too can have our `Dewey Defeats Truman’ iconic moment and find ourselves pleasantly and deliriously surprised, defying pollsters, oddsmaker and conventional wisdom all. Proving that maybe, just maybe, we haven’t become the jaded, cynical pragmatists our leading candidates have bet their electoral fortunes we are.

torn and frayedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat