Vision Quest I

September 17, 2010

This one’s mine.

My colleagues here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are too compromised. Too caught up in the race. Too waist deep into the mindset of strategic voting and settling for A.B.F.

I am an old hippie. It’s not a label I shun. In fact, I embrace it.

As an old hippie, I retain a mighty mistrust of institutions, especially those ones that influence us greatly but seem impervious to our presence. Those we can only ignore as our last line of defense against them. The media is one such entity. For our purposes here, the media is the Man.

From the very beginning of this municipal campaign, we were presented a 6 candidate menu. Six candidates and six candidates only. Three sitting councillors. One former deputy premier of Ontario. Two neophytes, picked from the ether of political backrooms and media social circles. A couple of the councillors switched up and another dropped out, leaving us with a choice of five. All neatly wrapped and parceled out for our viewing/listening pleasure/displeasure.

When the people called out, hey, there’s an empty chair at the table, half-hearted measures were taken on occasion to fill it. With a 2nd Rocco, possessor of similar skills to the other five and a comparably uninspiring set of ideas. He proved ineffectual (no less so than Sarah Thomson but she remains) and soon fizzled out.

So there are 5.

Anything more would just be messy, we are told. Unruly. Counter-productive. These are your five choices. These are the ones you will see on your TV and read about in the newspapers. Choose.

I have another idea.

HiMY SYeD, the Peoples’ Mayor. He was featured here back in June, just after he’d popped in for cup of coffee on stage at the Better Ballots debate. “We’ve Had Enough Cowboys in City Hall, Now It’s Time for an Indian!” A hell of a punch line and we could leave it at that except for the fact that Mr. SYeD has proven to be much more than a gag candidate.

Following him since then or, at least trying to, as the man seems to be everywhere at once, it’s clear that he is a candidate worthy of careful consideration. A ferocious Tweeter, his constant updates reveal an individual at home with workings of the municipal government. It is in this writer’s humble opinion that HiMY SYeD is more knowledgeable about how City Hall operates than any of the other candidates save for, perhaps, Joe Pantalone. While council was still in session, he’d be there at meetings, deputations, community councils, all while campaigning. At the debates, he’d give real times answers to the questions that were posed as if he had been invited to participate.

He never has been which remains something of a nagging mystery. Invites have been extended and then retracted with no explanation attached. No one wants him involved it’s clear, from the candidates to debate organizers, begging the question why.

My take on it is simple. For all the talk of change we’re hearing during this election, it’s all nothing more than cosmetic change. No, that’s not quite right. Some of the proposed changes are quite radical in fact. But none meant to make the lives of Torontonians any better. The changes being offered up by Mssrs. Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Ms. Thomson all amount to nothing other than telling the people of this city to expect less. That’s what comes from tax and spending cuts and hiring freezes.

Change for HiMY SYeD’s is a whole lot different than that. To try and understand his approach to change, one needs to look at the politics of Jaime Lerner. A 3 term mayor of Curitiba, Brazil’s 7th largest city, he is credited with helping turn around what was a typical South American urban environment, dirty, crime-ridden and intensely segregated along a gaping economic divide. By using the immediate, easy accessible tools at his disposal, Lerner transformed Curitiba into a prime example of greener, more sustainable, equitable and more livable city.

Despite what 80% of our front running candidates are bellowing at us, compared to the problems and difficulties cities in the developing world face, ours are mild and we have far more resources to deal with them. Hence, Mr. SYeD’s calm and considered approach to change. Or what he calls, transformation. “Change is no longer enough,” according to Mr. SYeD.

Vision 2020 offers a glimpse into Mr. SYeD’s thinking about change/transformation. Calling it “an integrated 10 year strategy of hope in Toronto” (some of which voters might recognize as recent additions to a few of the leading  mayoral candidates’ platforms and announcements), it consists of 3 simple ideas. Mobility. Sustainability. Identity.

From those come specific ideas. A move to complete streets which is not a War on Cars but rather an acknowledgement that in a healthy city, private vehicles can no longer have primacy on the roads. Designate neighbourhoods that develop and implement sustained and green technology for the city to use. SaTuRN. Sustainable Architectural Technological Urban Research Neighbourhood District. Bring about an elected comptroller for the city to deal with our finances. According to Mr. SYeD, Toronto doesn’t have a spending problem. It has a borrowing problem. In terms of increasing citizen involvement with the city, Vision 2020 proposes neighbourhood councils to be elected annually and with a real say in what happens in their neighbourhoods.

HiMY SYeD wants to bring about what he calls, “Transformational Regime”. What’s that, you ask? I’ll let him explain it.

A Transformational Regime built upon the foundations of three faculties:

1) Strategic Alliance — A stable, highly committed group of political, economic, and social interests that share a common strategic purpose. We have it already: The Toronto City Summit Alliance.

2) Local Practices of Urbanism — The planning processes, technical solutions, designs, and business models that shape the way Toronto is built, serviced and used so as to achieve our defined strategic purpose.

3) Strategic Institutions — A dedicated institutional apparatus responsive to the alliance, for developing, testing, and diffusing our new practices of urbanism.

These three faculties form a practice “regime” with the stability and power to transform urban form, regional markets, and local culture to establish a New Urbanism in Toronto.

The key is putting more power into the hands of the people rather than the top down, institutional change the leading candidates are vowing to inflict on us. Thus, HiMY SYeD, the Peoples’ Mayor. A pie in the sky dreamer? No. I’d call it dreaming little to bring about big changes.

More to the point, HiMY SYeD has proven himself to be a viable candidate who deserves to be heard. Those of us in the city looking for real change deserve to hear him, to see him up on stage with those who’ve been designated as our only choices. Denying him access only heightens suspicion that real change is being denied us.

So start to holler and demand that space be made for you to hear HiMY SYeD. Go to ArtsVote and vote for him to be the 6th candidate at their debate on September 29th. He deserves it. We deserve it.

Last word to Mr. SYeD:

Vision 2020 – Another Toronto is Possible. A Twenty Year Urban Strategy embracing Mobility, Sustainability, Identity — Where Everyone feels and says, “We Belong”.

“We Belong, Here.”

— assertively submitted by Acaphlegmic


Left Out In The Cold

September 11, 2010

I write this as quietly as possible, typing noiselessly at the keyboard as my colleague, Cityslikr, has finally collapsed into an aggrieved slumber/stupor/blackout onto a nearby couch after a tumultuous 48 hours. Not sure what drug it was that finally did the trick. Whatever it was, just hoping it doesn’t prove lethal. We’re regularly employing the breath-on-the-mirror method to see that he’s alive although wouldn’t have the slightest clue what to do if he isn’t. We’re not even sure he’s given either of us the password to this site.

It all started (cue flashback squigglies) Wednesday night at the MaRS mayoral debate. Cityslikr had finally convinced me to attend one with him, assuring me that from here on in there could be substance to them, some meat on the bones. “This here dog just might start to hunt,” he said, affecting a southern drawl that usually means he’s got nothing left to say but can’t stop talking immediately.

If nothing else, I thought, I’d get to take a peek inside the MaRS building on College Street that brings a smile to my face every time I pass it.

Things started to unravel almost as soon as we sat down. Cityslikr couldn’t get any cell reception and therefore unable to tap into the Twitter account. “A blessing in disguise?” I suggested. Now he might actually listen to what was going on up on stage rather than sitting, coiled and ready to rip off snappy rejoinders. This was met with a chilly silence.

I was instructed to take notes as my Twitter-less companion found himself too jittery to even hold a pen. Good God, man! You can’t be that indentured to the new technology, can you? Get ahold of yourself! (Grabs him by the lapels and slaps him several times across the face. A few more times than necessary.)

At least, that’s how it played out in my mind as I waited for the debate to commence. Which it did, eventually, with the Board of Trade’s Carol Wilding moderating and handful of media types parked beside her to ask questions of the 5 candidates. Yep. The 5 candidates. It seems the organizers of Toronto Debates 2010 (along with the Board of Trade, Toronto City Summit Alliance, United Way, Toronto Community Foundation, Toronto Star and 680 News) have decided to dispense with the niceties of inviting any of the 33 or so other mayoral candidates including Rocco Achampong who’d been making the occasional appearances at other debates going on around town. Setting aside suspicions that the good folks behind Toronto Debates 2010 were simply trying to limit the scope of the debate, we decided their reasoning was more along the lines of making it easier to manage things with just five candidates on stage. Ain’t that right, Stephen LeDrew.

Judging by how civil the proceedings were it would be difficult to argue with that thinking. No shoutfest. No ugly personal exchanges. Just straight up answers given to questions that weren’t asked.

To be fair, the candidates may have been thrown off their game a bit as the tone of the debate was a more positive one than I’d been told to expect. The moderator and questioners weren’t operating from the premise of everything in the city having gone to shit and what were the candidates going to do about it. It was more to do with building upon or developing existing aspects that could be doing better in order to encourage prosperity equality and promote economic growth. More or less.

Because let’s face it. The whole developed world has just endured a shit storm of an economic downturn and the recovery is still very tenuous. So yeah, things aren’t great but they could’ve been a whole lot worse.

Councillor Pantalone embraced the tenor best and caught our attention right off the bat with his reference to the ‘myth of the broken city’. What was that you say, Joe? Do go on. Pantalone was fighting mad, telling the audience that the city was nowhere near in as bad a shape as his opponents claimed. A debt? Sure. What government wasn’t carrying a debt right now? I think he might be the first of the candidates in this race to even mention the word ‘recession’. Yes, Toronto’s debt sounds large ($3 billion) but was it? I don’t know. But let’s have the conversation instead of just repeating the number over and over again.

The timing was right for Pantalone to start battling back and staking out his ground centre-left. All his opponents were tripping over themselves to get to the furthest right with their talk of freezing taxes, cutting council numbers, selling assets, outsourcing city services. And the leader of this pack, Rob Ford, had just laid one large stinky turd of a transit plan that was so bad that even his paper of record, the Toronto Sun, dismissed it out of hand. Come on, Joe. Your time to shine.

But slowly, regular Joe re-assumed control, doling out half measures; qualified successes of the past 7 years and highlighting missteps. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? The one issue where Pantalone had no doubts? That he was a consensus builder unlike the others up on stage with him. He’s proven he can work with anyone. David Miller. Mel Lastman. Alan Tonks. Left. Right. Centre. NDP. Conservative. Liberal. By the time he was wrapping up with his final statement, old Joe was back, flying in the face of the anti-incumbency movement afoot, warning the audience that the mayor of Toronto is no place to experiment with unknowns. Go with what you know. And you know Joe Pantalone.

As usual, the performance wasn’t bad but it could’ve/should’ve been so much better. At least it was a start, we thought as we left the auditorium, Cityslikr desperately trying to find a signal somewhere, anywhere. Better late than never.

And then came the next day. Sitting together at a table in a Chinese restaurant on Spadina, waiting to hear Joe’s big announcement. MP Olivia Chow had already endorsed Joe. That certainly couldn’t be it. We’d already been unsurprised by Jack Layton’s endorsement of the Pantalone campaign a week or so ago. But wait, they weren’t finished. What’s that he just said, Cityslikr asked me.

“He said, if elected mayor, he’d freeze property taxes for 40 000 lower income senior citizens.”

“What?”

“Yeah. A tax freeze.”

“That can’t be right. Are you sure?”

“Yep. Wait. He just said something else.”

“What? What did he say now?”

“Huh.”

“What? What?!”

“I’m pretty sure Joe Pantalone just said as mayor, he’d cut the vehicle registration tax for seniors as the first step to phasing it out altogether over the course of the next 4 years.”

“What? A tax cut??”

And the rest, as they say is history, bringing us to our current situation, Cityslikr asleep on the couch after a Don Draper two day bender minus the girls. He stumbled disconsolately from the restaurant, pocketing dumplings and spring rolls as he went, mumbling words like ‘betrayal’, ‘Judas’ and something about his upper thigh burning from the hot oil oozing from the spring rolls. Fortunately he’d left before Pantalone tried justifying himself to the Globe and Mail’s Kelly Grant who’d politely inquired about the sudden about face on the vehicle registration tax.

As Deputy Mayor, Pantalone had fought hard for the VRT. It was a modest use of the new taxation powers granted in the City of Toronto Act and now, just a couple years in and he was calling it a ‘mistake’ with no ‘moral authority’ since the people of Toronto ‘unanimously’ hated it. How’s that for consensus building? Hoping aboard the anti-gravy train and riding it to join the throng at the right end of the political spectrum. Neoliberalville, where all taxes are bad and have no moral authority within the city limits.

Not everyone here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have turned their backs on you, Joe, like you did us. You’re just lucky we’re not all as quick to indignation as our unconscious leader, snoring over there on the couch is. We do feel like you’re taking our votes for granted as if we have no where else to turn. That’s hardly the firestarter you’re campaign desperately needs at the moment.

You have, though, most definitely lost one supporter who was willing to follow you into battle against the forces of darkness. If only you’d picked that fight instead of settling for the mushy middle that the loudmouth Rob Ford keeps moving further in his direction. And if that strategy doesn’t work for you, don’t be blaming the likes of our Cityslikr for abandoning you. You left him first.

And to you over there, my troubled, bereft friend, pleasant dreams. You are still breathing, aren’t you?

hawk watchingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


No More More Of The Same

September 5, 2010

Earlier this week as the mayoral candidates prepared for another series of debates, some questions popped up about the inclusion of 6th placer, Rocco Achampong. Why now? Why not months ago? Nobody ever listened to what former candidate Giorgio Mammoliti said about anything else when he was campaigning. So how come they took him up on including Achampong in the debates?

The most salient argument against including newcomers to the proceedings at this relatively late stage of the game is that now is the time to start winnowing down not opening up. We need to focus in on the front running campaigns, one of which will produce Toronto’s next mayor. To throw the doors open will simply muddy the waters, cause voter disarray and make post-Labour Day clarity and decision making near impossible.

My response to that would be, have the candidates earned such a free pass? Months and months into this, with countless debates already under their belts and exclusive media access, and no one’s yet broken through. So what’s just more of the same going to accomplish?

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Rob Ford has more than broken through. He is the one candidate that has run what must be considered a near flawless campaign so far. How else to explain his turning a mindlessly pea-brained platform that can be re-uttered by even the densest voter – Stop The Gravy Train! – into a 1st place standing? Ford should be the joke of this race and yet the only one to even so much as land a punch on him is, well, Ford himself.

Take this past week for example. Ford bumbled, stumbled and fumbled through 3 debates, two of which, to be fair, were not his strong suit, city heritage and the environment. But what’s the news grabbing the headlines over the weekend? George Smitherman telling a Rocco Rossi campaign staffer to either fuck or screw off after they tried handing him some pamphlet apparently critical of his candidacy.

(To give George some props on this issue, I’ve encountered the Rossi Red Army at a number of debates. Their aggressive chair saving and Pavlovian cheering at their candidate’s increasingly loud, shrill empty rhetoric have made me inclined to want to tell a few of them to fuck off on occasion as well. So that’s a point for Smitherman in my books.)

If anything, this suggests that the mayoral debates need some new blood not a closing of ranks. Achampong has not embarrassed himself even if he hasn’t distinguished himself either. Part of the problem as I see it is that he’s singing from the same fiscal conservative, social liberal songbook as Smitherman, Rossi and Thomson. So it’s difficult to differentiate his views from the rest of the pack. Still, he’s proving that there are other credible candidates out there we should be hearing from.

My first choice would be HiMY SYeD. (Don’t worry, potential debate moderators. The name’s much easier to pronounce than it looks. Simpler than ‘Achampong’ which seems to be giving everyone verbal fits.) Following SYeD out on the hustings largely through his almost superhuman Twitter output, he appears to have more knowledge and ideas about civic governance than any of the leading candidates outside of Joe Pantalone. Let’s see how he fares up under the debate spotlights. He’s earned it.

That’s seven. How be we make it an even number? I’d nominate George Babula or Sonny Yeung. Give them a crack at the big time. Hell, let’s see what Keith Cole is up too as the campaign kicks into high gear. He acquitted himself well at the Better Ballots debate back in June. No reason he wouldn’t again if given another shot.

While much noise is being made over this final summer long weekend about how people’s attention will start to hone in on the municipal campaign as it heads toward the October 25th conclusion, I’m not sure how delivering them the same dog-and-pony show will accomplish anything other than having more people feeling as discouraged and disenchanted as those who’ve been following from the beginning. To borrow an inane phrase Rocco Rossi’s been touting over and over again, isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result? What this campaign doesn’t need is more of the same. It needs a shake-up that can only come with bringing in new voices and new ideas.

still hopeful(ly) submitted by Cityslikr


Architecture Of A Debate

August 31, 2010

Seated in a packed Great Hall on the 3rd floor of the St. Lawrence Hall last night awaiting the most recent mayoral debate, this one hosted by Heritage Toronto, I took in the (mercifully) air-conditioned magnificence of the room. Its salmon coloured walls… or were they pink? Hard to tell in the dim light cast by the gas-powered chandelier and wall sconces. Is that what they’re called, sconces?

Politics runs deep in this building, having hosted the likes of John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George Brown and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Maybe tonight we’d witness a politician rising to the occasion to match the august surroundings. A breakout performance that would signal a turnaround in the so-far dreary race. One has to maintain hope in such possibilities if one doesn’t want to become totally disillusioned with the process.

After two hours, it was obvious nothing of the sort was going to happen but… but… Let me say this as we head humidly toward Labour Day, the unofficial end of summer and beginning of the campaign’s witching hour where carriages turn into pumpkins and us Prince Charmings run around in a desperate attempt to find someone who fits into the glass slipper. George Smitherman looks as if he’s getting into fighting form.

There were flashes during the debate where, for the first since he declared his intentions to run for mayor, we actually caught glimpses of humanity in George rather than a political machine. Hey, I found myself thinking a couple of times last night, the man actually likes this city he wants to lead. Maybe City Hall isn’t just a stepping stone for him on his way to a higher profile political gig. Who knows how much smoother the campaign trail might’ve been had he embraced a more conciliatory stance toward the current governance of this city from the get-go instead of joining the chorus of blind ragers looking to do nothing more than stir-up a pool of discontent with loud bellowing.

Smitherman was primed and ready for a healthy debate, having released his 5-point Heritage Plan earlier in the day. He came across as one-step ahead of everyone else on stage (football fields ahead in some cases), weaving policy talk in with personal anecdotes of living a heritage related life, not always seamlessly but more often than not effectively. His response to the question about the disparity between heritage preservation in the downtown core versus the suburbs, slyly extended an olive branch to the suburbs with his vow to empower community councils to deal with such matters. There was the odd political swipe, left and right, here and there. He also expressed a surprising antagonism to the idea of putting a Toronto museum into the old City Hall building ‘sometime in the future’ after the courts had been moved elsewhere which seemed an unnecessary shout-out to the fiscal conservatives surrounding him.

Still, to our eyes, it was Smitherman’s strongest debate performance to date and should make Team Rob Ford look down from measuring for new curtains in the Mayor’s office (paid for entirely by Rob Ford, of course) and realize that it may take more than name-calling and scandal mongering to put their candidate into office. For his part, Mr. Ford once again looked out-of-place and ill at ease addressing one of them downtown, elitist crowds. Although he did zero to help his cause like, maybe, brush up on the topic at hand a little. He seems pathologically unable to veer from his script and eventually drew derisive groans, mocking laughter and the odd heckle as he refused to answer many of the questions asked of all the debaters, and drifted off onto inane non sequiturs and pat responses.

It’s almost painful to witness over the course of 2 hours. Almost. To the point where I wonder why he participates in these particular debates at all. Then I remember this is primo campaign strategy. The laughing and jeering has nothing to do with Rob Ford being ill-informed and thick-headed and all about the smug, condescending downtowners who’ll get theirs when Rob Ford becomes mayor. So far, it’s been working for him but they may have to add to the repertoire if Smitherman continues to perform like he did last night.

As for the others?

Rocco Rossi, despite his campaign team shake up over the weekend, remains almost as single-mindedly fixated on a ‘single money for value’ issue as Ford although he’s added another neo-conservative trick to his… wherever you add a trick. A trick bag? Voter Recall which has done wonders for places like California. Rossi just seemed louder than he usually does but did pronounce his love of the city’s ravines. Loudly.

Joe Pantalone was performing in front of a supportive crowd and, as usual, had nice moments especially when he responded to a question of ‘cultural landscapes’. But he seems unable to deliver a sustained performance over the course of an entire debate, lapsing back into soft platitudes when he doesn’t appear all that interested in the topic. He’s also developed an annoying tic of punching a single point relentlessly from the morning’s strategy meeting. Last night? The Fort York bicentennial, coming up in 2012. Again and again. Yeah, we get it, Joe. Fort York = Heritage.

Once more, Sarah Thomson appeared out of her depth, saying little more than ‘let’s preserve old buildings’. How can a candidate (aside from Rob Ford) seem continually surprised and caught off-guard at a debate on Heritage by questions about, well, heritage? Last night might represent the weakest we’ve seen Ms. Thomson.

For the second time we watched Rocco Achampong take a spot alongside the front running candidates and are now convinced that it should be his last. While chalking up his underwhelming performance at June’s Better Ballots debate to a case of nerves, once again last night he displayed a knack for not delivering a succinct point in his allotted time. Ever. There’s no focus to his campaign and as a candidate, he seems torn between two instincts: a fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. They seem at war with one another and render him conflicted and ineffective. It’s time to turn over the one measly chair to another outsider candidate.

Debate moderator, former Chief City Planner of Toronto and professor of City Planning at U of T and Ryerson, Paul Bedford, closed out the debate saying that cities need to grow on purpose not by accident and implored all those in the Great Hall to go out and “make passionate love to the city”. Well, we didn’t see a lot of that on display from the candidates but it was interesting and more than a little heartening to watch George Smitherman’s iciness toward it begin to thaw, just a little. With it not even Labour Day yet, we may be seeing signs of the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Another Debate, Same Old Tune

July 21, 2010

With another televised mayoral debate under our collective belts, I do not think it hyperbolic (in the non-mathematical sense) to say that this city is now facing a crisis of confidence, leadership confidence. What seemed funny back in March became mirthlessly laughable by May. Now, more than mid-way through July and it’s simply just sad. And a little bit worrisome.

Yeah, it’s that bad, folks.

At moments like these, I try to settle my rattled nerves by knocking back a few stiff belts of Woodford Reserve over an a.m. bowl of honey coated Shreddies and convince myself that if we made it through the Mel Lastman years, hell, we can make it through anything. We are that strong. We are that resilient.

But this feels a little different, and not in a ticklish, I kind of like it way. It’s more ominous and disheartening. Thirteen years into this experiment we call the amalgamated city and it seems like we’ve learned nothing, processed no information, become none the wiser through the experience of past accomplishments and mistakes. Those endeavouring to assume Toronto’s top office have surveyed the landscape, examined the books and come to the exhaustive conclusion that what ails us most is a… spending problem.

It’s all about out of control, unaccountable, retirement party spending. End of discussion. Full stop. Enjoy the rest of your evening everyone. Vote For Me!

To give Councillor/Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone his due, he did try offering up a variation on the theme. (No, not his charts.) He raised the spectre of tax revenue inequality among the various levels of government, pointing out that for every tax dollar a Toronto resident spends, 92 cents of it leaves the city on its way to either Ottawa or Queen’s Park but it was a conversation the others didn’t want to have. Pantalone was summarily shouted down by all 4 of the others, braying in unison: We have a spending problem!

That’s it. The full extent of the conversation. The alpha and omega of the debate. A paucity of thoughtful, provocative ideas and views, best exemplified by Rocco Rossi. I know you thought I was going to say Rob Ford but what would be the point? He’s a Johnny One-Note that only surprises by his extraordinary ability to bring every issue, regardless of how irrelevant and beside the point back to Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party. I’m pretty sure that’s how he plans on cutting 22 council seats. Anyone who attended the party is gone.

Yet in his own way, Rossi’s no better. He might not turn as beet red as Ford but he manages to spout similarly inane nonsense. Near the end of last night’s debate, he looked into the camera and bludgeoned us with the power of absolute numbers, saying that the present mayor inherited a 6 point something billion dollar operating budget and this year? (Stare deep into my eyes those out there in TV land and listen to the gravity I summon in my baritone voice.) 9 point 2 billion dollars.

Wow. That’s a lot of money. We really do have a spending prob—Wait a second. Might there be any explanation for such a significant rise in expenditure? Let’s see, for the past 18 months, 2 years, there’s been that little recession thing. The biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression with government expenditures at all levels exploding in order to head off an even bigger calamity. So there was that. Plus Transit City, the largest expansion of public transportation in Toronto for decades, making up for previous regimes’ neglect and building those bridges Mr. Rossi talks so movingly about to underserved areas of the city. A little cash outlay was needed for that.

The spendthrift argument Rossi et al put forward de-contextualizes the situation, pulling Toronto out of the reality it operates in for purely political purposes. No real viable solutions are put up on offer. Just hot button topics to raise the hackles of outrage among the electorate.

So whatever audience there is for the debate tunes in, turns off and drops out. We’ve been hearing the same drivel for 6 months now and we’re not biting. Sure, Ford’s made a splash upon entry but he basically siphoned support away from the others. The largest number still remains in the undecided column. The prix fixe doesn’t do it for me. Can I order a la carte, s’il vous plais?

Unfortunately the media maitre d’ remains firm. This is the slate of candidates we gave you, dammit, pick one of these! Given the opportunity of Giorgio Mammoliti’s exit from the mayoral race to open up the field of choice, CP24 declined last night. Brushing off calls to include Mammoliti’s pick to replace him, Rocco Achampong, they said winnowing the debate down to 5 would help simplify things as if they weren’t already doing that with Ben Mulroney MCing the proceedings.

This led to accusations of racism since Achampong is black and every one of the front runners is white. Let’s try and, if not represent the diversity of the city here, at least make a passing nod to it. While not ignoring that point, I do think that it’s part of a bigger problem at work here.

We are a small organization and yet over the course of the last few months have uncovered 5 or 6 other candidates running for mayor who are at least worth a first look at. Some aren’t white, some are. None are saying anything crazier than Rob Ford; all are talking a lot more sense. If we can find them certainly big news gathering conglomerates like CP24 or CTV or CBC or the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun can too. Talk to them. Interview them. Introduce them to the public. That is your job after all, is it not?

Here, let me give you a list of names to get you started: there’s Rocco Achampong. (Check the spelling though.) HiMY SYeD. (Ditto.) Sonny Yeung. (Pronounced just like our main north-south street.) Keith Cole. (He’s gay just like George Smitherman.) George Babula. Andrew Barton. Wendell Brereton. Colin Magee.

These candidates are only fringe because you guys declared them so. Well, given those who you said weren’t and who were on display on CP24 again last night, I’m not sure we should trust your judgment on this. We’re not liking what we’re seeing and suggest it’s time to turn the channel. Or at least, give us more to choice to choose from. What we are seeing here is the deliberate muffling of democracy and the handcuffing of voters. A prospect even more frightening than a Mayor Rob Ford.

End of discussion. Full stop.

ire drawingly submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate XX

July 9, 2010

Rainy days on Fridays always make me… want to read Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

This week a special double feature: Giorgio Mammoliti & Rocco Achampong!

OK, so we’re not going to really spend much time on the former mayoral candidate, Giorgio Mammoliti, as he’s withdrawn from the race and is heading back to seek reelection as councillor for Ward 7. But as we wrote here earlier this week, when Mammoliti announced that he was exiting he expressed hope that Rocco Achampong would have a greater presence in the campaign. Ostensibly, Mammoliti was endorsing Achampong to take his place along side the 5 other front running candidates.

How effective this endorsement of legitimacy will be is hard to tell. It came from Giorgio Mammoliti after all. A candidate very few took at all seriously which is why he is no longer running for mayor. It’s difficult to imagine why the remaining front runners would welcome a new face into the midst given the difficulties most of them have had mustering a whole lot of support and enthusiasm for their respective campaigns. Aside from Rob Ford that is, and he may welcome anyone up on stage with him who isn’t Giorgio Mammoliti, a constant thorn in Ford’s side and aggressive caller out of Ford’s steady stream of bullshit.

But Mammoliti’s attempt to shine whatever light he had on Achampong will make it increasingly difficult for debate organizers to continue ignoring the other Rocco. CBC’s Metro Morning picked up the thread almost immediately, interviewing Mr. Achampong the very next day. CP24’s next mayoral debate is schedule on July 20th. Has an invite already been extended to Rocco Achampong?

For our part, despite having already profiled his candidacy a couple months ago, we’re going to accept Giorgio Mammoliti’s challenge and do our first ever re-profile here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

As we wrote here earlier about Mr. Achampong, he has all the tools to be a very compelling candidate. He is articulate, passionate, confident and has a great biography. Born in Ghana, he came to Canada with his family at the age of 9 and grew up in one of the toughest, poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto, managing all the obstacles inherent in that environment to work his way through to becoming a lawyer. He was very politically active while at U of T, serving as both president of the Black Students’ Association and the Students’ Administrative Council. It is a resumé fit for a career in politics.

And yet, we remain underwhelmed. Having seen and heard Rocco Achampong a couple times since we wrote the first profile, nothing he’s said has alleviated our concern that his platform is built on the flaccid legs of empty rhetoric. When talking to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday, Mr. Achampong spoke of a need for a mayor who was not “a person reciting from rote from a political handbook”. We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Achampong. So would you mind closing up that political handbook you’re reciting from?

The Issues section of the (other) Rocco for Campaign 2010 website shows a candidate who is very concerned with social matters. Transit, housing, job creation and culture all figure prominently. But it still lacks some need to know specifics. Mr. Achampong wants to freeze TTC fares for two years and add subways to Transit City. Where’s he going to get the money to do that? Ditto the doubling of grants to city cultural and arts groups. Great idea. Where’s the money going to come from?

None of which would be all that troublesome at this juncture of the campaign (especially since the other leading candidates have similar gaping holes in their platforms) but we find it hard to gibe these noble intentions with the anti-tax/anti-City Hall sentiments that shone through Mr. Achampong’s kick off speech back in February. Many of his words could’ve just as easily emerged from the mouths of Mssrs. Ford, Smitherman, Rossi and Ms. Thomson. While Rocco Achampong may be a fresh face on the campaign trail, his ideas most certainly aren’t.

This isn’t to suggest, however, that Rocco Achampong is not ready for and hasn’t earned a shot at mayoral primetime. He may fit in a little too neatly for our tastes. The race is in desperate need of someone of Mr. Achampong’s intelligence and perspective. There is no reason whatsoever that he continue to be ignored as future mayoral get togethers are organized.

And if not Rocco Achampong, why not HiMY SYeD? Or Colin Magee. Or Sonny Yeung? Or Keith Cole? Or Wendell Brereton? Or George Babula? There are plenty of interesting choices out there. Let’s get the opportunity to explore them.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Ciao Giorgio. C U In November.

July 6, 2010

Giorgio Mammoliti has left the building. Figuratively speaking of course. Out of the mayoral race as of yesterday, he announced he was returning to the hinterlands to seek re-election as councillor in Ward 7 and if the voters so chose (as they almost always do with their incumbents), he would be back at City Hall after the October 25th election.

Gone with him is much of the colour and panache that he provided in the campaign. As things stand now, without him, it promises to be a dreary affair. Doubly so as the palpably overt contempt Mammoliti never shied away from showing for fellow candidate Rob Ford was rarely matched by anyone else up on the dais with them during the debates. The two men clearly loath one another and the tension between them was almost sexual in its sweatiness if such a thing can be pictured without causing one to lapse into a self-protective coma.

To say that the Mammoliti, Outrageously In Touch brand never really caught fire is simply committing to bytes a firm grasp of the obvious. His problems as we saw it stemmed from the fact that it was difficult to get a handle on his candidacy. Part bat shit crazy, part go for broke bold, he was never able to reconcile the two into a workable platform. For every audacious waterfront plan he threw out there, he tripped himself up with countless panderings to the fearful and the tax haters. His dismissal of bike lanes as being not a serious, ‘meat and potatoes’ issue in his speech yesterday revealed his stunted thinking about an overall transit strategy. Although he is not alone in that amongst the other mayoral candidates, it was just tough to get a sense of where exactly the Mammoliti campaign stood. Perhaps his motto should’ve been: Giorgio Mammoliti, Outrageously Touched.

Still, we will say this much about Mammoliti’s run for mayor. For the most part it was one, if not of vision, at least of forward thinking. At times he seemed to be actually trying to figure shit out and not simply offering empty platitudes and easy bromides. This was most apparent when we watched him wrestle with the more nuanced, intricate issues last month at the AGO’s Mayoral forum, A New Mayors Vision For Architecture, Design and Planning In The City Of Toronto. As we wrote here about the event, Mammoliti seemed the most engaged and willing to talk about matters that clearly weren’t his strong suit. What he displayed was passion rather than calculation.

He drops out now leaving a largely listless pack of contenders who mostly seem content trying to convince Toronto voters that they best can restore Toronto to its glory years of the 1970s by bringing back 1970s levels of taxing and spending. And Joe Pantalone, who has developed a serious knack for delivering the right message a day later than he should. Mammoliti probably deserves the fate that has befallen him but if that’s true, all 5 of the other front running candidates warrant similar outcomes. Certainly none of them have earned the right to be taken any more seriously than Giorgio Mammoliti.

Further to his credit, Mammoliti didn’t exit the race quietly. While refusing to endorse any other candidate, he did suggest that the previously considered “fringe” candidate, Rocco Achampong, be allowed to take his place at future mayoral debates, doing his best to not allow the media and entrenched mayoral camps from using his departure to narrow the field down to simply five. Whatever his motives, he used what will probably be his highest level of media attention to try and keep the proceedings that much more open and democratic. For that he should be applauded.

How likely anyone will take him up on the challenge will be interesting to watch. Clearly much of the media hadn’t spent any time examining candidates outside the Six Pack, some not even getting the spelling of Mr. Achampong’s correct. (LIVE on CP24 ROCCO ACHANPONG asks CP24 to be included at July 20th Mayoral debate – in place of Mammoliti.) Heaven forbid that someone like HiMY SYeD begins to garner a higher profile. Imagine the spelling slaughter on that. In that light, I guess Giorgio Mammoliti should consider his aborted mayoral campaign an unqualified success. At least they got his name right.

send offingly submitted by Cityslikr