A Mayoral Catch-22

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

Ford Nation Right Or Wrong

Nothing brings out the morass of illogic, paranoia and dystopian alternate reality of Ford Nation more than an allegation brought against its titular head, Mayor Rob Ford. flyingmonkeysScandal is what they feed off, proof that a vast conspiracy is perpetually at work in an attempt to discredit, humiliate and ultimately topple the duly elected mayor with a mandate from power. These people – everybody who does not whole-heartedly support the mayor – will stop at nothing to achieve their nefarious ends.

Yes, real life like some badly written comic book.

They are the Oz’s flying monkey brigade, just waiting for a signal from their leader to tear an opponent to shreds.

Never mind Mayor Ford’s past behaviour. It does not factor into their reasoning. An attack has been launched against him. Maximum damage must be inflicted upon the transgressor.

I am not suggesting the mayor is guilty of what Sarah Thomson has accused him of. How would I know? strawmanI wasn’t at the event in question.

But for the life of me, I cannot figure out what Ms. Thomson has to gain by making such a false allegation. Media attention? Sure, but to what end? She garners plenty of media attention already – she is part of the media. I’d argue she’s very good at keeping herself in the public eye.

Here’s one theory that was bandied about as I understood it:

A striving but perpetually unsuccessful political candidate makes false allegations of a sexual nature against a mayor in order to generate publicity for herself and discredit him. This will enhance her chances at victory come next election. It is a tried and true tactical strategy that has launched the careers all those other women like… readyformycloseupAnd I’ll pause here to wait for you to fill in that blank as I’m coming up empty in an attempt to provide any actual examples.

While Ms. Thomson has been unsuccessful to date in winning any election she’s run in, this interpretation of events paints someone so desperate to achieve her ends that she will stop at nothing including slander and libel. She’s a media hound. She’s flakey. How did Mayor Ford put it on his radio show today? “I don’t know if she’s playing with a full deck.”

Such a torturous, scorched earth route to get from point A to B when the shortest way would be to look at the mayor’s own past behaviour. Outbursts of public loutishness. Check. Immediate denials. Check. Heavy-handed dismissal of accusers. Check.

Again. That’s not to say Mayor Ford is guilty of what he’s been accused of. How would I know one way or the other? I’m just saying his supporters are working hard to prop up the least likely explanation.

But there are inconsistencies to Thomson’s story! She said she was drinking cranberry juice but somebody else said she was drinking scotch. She said the mayor told him he was alone down in Florida but we all know he went down with his family. hediditShe said she told his staff about his behaviour but his staff said they never talked to her at the event.

In this version of the story, only Sarah Thomson had motivation to lie. No one else.  Not the mayor. Not the mayor’s staff. Thomson just created layer and layers of lies in order to prop up her original lie.

But we have three witnesses! Ford Nation exclaims. Sarah Thompson has none. So case closed. The Mayor is innocent.

Never mind that two of those witnesses, Richmond Hill councillors, Carmine Perrelli and Greg Beros, in no way refute Thomson’s initial claim. Everyone seems to agree that she joined their group after she had her picture taken with the mayor, saying he’d just grabbed her ass. You need proof of that, came the response. So Thomson and her assistant went back to see if they could get a picture of the mayor grabbing somebody else’s ass. The Set Up, as the media subsequently called it.

None of this undercuts Thomson’s original claim.

OK, but what about Jordan Falkenstein, the eye witness who came forward to state that he did not see anything untoward going on between the mayor and Ms. Thomson. setatrapHe was waiting in line for a picture with the mayor when Thomson butted in front of him. So he got a bird’s eye view and can say with absolute certainty that at no time did he see Mayor Ford grab Ms. Thomson’s ass.

Slam dunk!

But imagine if you will, Mr. Falkenstein on the stand in a court of law.

So, there you were, Mr. Falkenstein, waiting for your turn to get a picture with Mayor Ford and this woman just barges in front of you. You’re cool with that, you say. No hard feelings. She then starts talking ‘in a cynical tone’, you say, to the mayor. You don’t hear the specifics and all the while this is happening, you don’t take your eyes off of the mayor’s right hand which you say stayed on her shoulder the entire time. That’s all you’re looking at, the mayor’s hand. You swear under oath that at no time during that entire exchange you diverted your gaze from his hand.

By its very nature, the kind of behaviour the mayor is accused of by Ms. Thomson is surreptitious, intended not to be seen by anyone else. suspiciousorangesProviding someone who says they did not see what was never intended for them to see is a pretty wobbly nail to hang your argument on. Yet it’s being touted as the final nail in the coffin of both Thomson’s claim and political career.

None of this, let me re-iterate, goes to proving the opposite, that Mayor Ford did and said what he’s been accused of doing and saying. It remains his word against her word. But the degree to which his supporters have leapt to his defense and so totally vilified Sarah Thompson is both disturbing and instructive.

For them, his pattern of previous behaviour has no bearing on his present actions. Instead, it’s all about concocting dark motivations of his accusers and demanding explanations from them that they in no way ask from the mayor. It’s almost as if an attack on him is an attack on them. To question him is to question their support of him. If Mayor Ford is capable of doing all the things he’s been accused of doing that would mean that those who supported him made a bad choice. That’s a tough pill to swallow. headinsandNobody likes admitting they might be wrong.

Instead of entertaining that possibility, Ford Nation goes to extraordinary lengths to create the unlikeliest of scenarios where they are right, where they’ve always been right and where they will always continue to be right. In such a world, everyone else has to be wrong. There is no stone of unreason they will not turn, no hypothetical too outrageous to run up the flag pole in order for that reality to happen.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr

Our Provincial Endorsement

With the importance provincial governments play in municipal life, I’m somewhat bewildered by my lack of engagement with the 2011 election. I should be on top of this, combing through party platforms, tracking down candidate debates or otherwise just staying on top of things. But no. I dithered. I procrastinated. I couldn’t beat back this feeling of caring less.

In trying to avoid the burden of responsibility, I lay the blame squarely on the respective campaigns’ shoulders. It all seemed to be about what we don’t need. We don’t need another 4 years of Dalton McGuinty. We don’t need another neo-conservative at the levers of power, desperately trying to steer the ship of state away from the future. No time for change. Exactly the time for change.

Well, if that’s the case, do I really need to be paying attention?

Snap out of it. Of course you do. Must muster interest. Do your duty as a citizen. Engage! Engage!

So I sat through Rogers’ Trinity-Spadina candidates’ debate minus the incumbent MPP. I went through campaign literature. I scoured party websites. And here’s what I came up with.

Surprise! I won’t be voting Conservative. The last thing we need is another anti-urban leader ignoring the interests of municipalities. Ignoring would be generous to Tim Hudak. It’s more like looking at cities as dumping grounds for the disastrous results of their backward policies. Remember Mike Harris?

As for the government of Dalton McGuinty? Ambivalence is mostly what wells up within me. For every strong initiative it’s made in areas like education or the environment, there’s been two steps back in the face of strong, largely misguided opposition. You don’t like wind turbines in toss-up ridings? They’re gone. Catholic school boards got problems with progressive approaches to sex education in the classrooms? Ignore it and carry on with your discriminatory, pre-Second Vatican Council ways.

Oh yeah. And let’s not forget the trampling of our civil rights, police state approving fiasco that was the G20.

The Liberal Government’s dealing with cities has been wishy-washy. Yes, it’s redone a lot of the damage inflicted by the Harris gang. Uploading many of the services dropped into our laps in the late-90s. They passed the City of Toronto Act which gave more powers and flexibility to the city to deal with its particular issues. There’s been the more than half-hearted Big Move and nod to the importance of public transit in the GTA. We got some of the gas tax. Promises have been made since 2003 of restarting provincial contribution to the annual operating budget of the TTC. Transit City was a signature piece of the transit puzzle here in Toronto. Until it wasn’t.

One might hope that, if given a 3rd majority, McGuinty would become more resolute and less afraid of his own shadow. He has stood firm in the formidable face of opposition to the HST. If Ford Nation fails to dislodge him, the premier might start standing up to the more ridiculous whims of our mayor. Moreover, Premier McGuinty might gracefully approach retirement and the Liberal party could entertain the notion of reclaiming its more liberal leanings.

But what about the Liberal candidate in our riding? One Sarah Thomson. We got a healthy dose of her when she ran for mayor of the city last year before she ran out of gas late in the proceedings. Underwhelming initially, she never really caught fire but she did evolve over the course of the race, the first of the candidates to begin backing away from the city’s-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket narrative and did seem to be listening to the actual problems we were facing. She adapted an extensive bike lane plan and was the first one to float the idea of road tolls, getting laughed out of the place by her opponents.

Yet, she still has a tendency to talk in sound bites. There’s the air of the high school valedictorian about her. I get the feeling she’s running here because there was no riding closer to home. She may be an ideal McGuinty Liberal which I hold against her. On the other hand, she’s not Rocco Rossi.

Normally, I don’t have to go through such a process of elimination about where I’ll be placing my X on the ballot. Trinity-Spadina is an NDP stronghold. I tend to lean that way most of the time. It should be a no-brainer.

However, maybe it’s the fallout of the lacklustre campaign but I’m just not feeling Andrea Horwath’s vibe. Rather than pick up where the federal NDP left off and run unabashedly with a left of centre platform, I’m feeling nickel and dimed by all the talk of capping gas prices, removing the HST from home heating fuels. On the other hand, they have promised to restart contributing to the TTC operating budget and other transit initiatives. But that feels almost ad hoc, not part of a bigger plan for cities.

Where’s the tapping into the Occupy Wall Street movement? It’s a shitstorm out there, people! Governments should not be retreating in the face scary economic news. We need to be talking Keynesian not deficit reduction. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

And then there’s our incumbent, Rosario Marchese. He may be a very nice man and a crackerjack constituent MPP. But how would I know? I never hear much from or about him until election time. Maybe it’s living in the shadow of MP Olivia Chow who keeps me apprised of everything she’s doing.  (What’s that you say, Olivia? A private member’s bill calling for a national transit strategy?) Marchese pales in comparion. But when he missed most of the Rogers’ candidates’ debate, it just struck me that he’s merely doing time.

Leaving me with the Green Party. Now, truth be told, I’ve never really known what to make of the Green Party. I get the environmental thrust but there’s also been the fiscal conservatism they’ve often touted. Some of the pledges in their platform come with the ‘when the budget’s balanced’ caveat. I’m sorry but with all the grim predictions making the rounds out there about an almost certain double-dip recession, budget balancing should be the last thing we’re talking about now.

That said, the Green Party candidate in Trinity-Spadina, Tim Grant, has caught my fancy. A former teacher who has been involved in the environmental movement since the days when most of us were asking, what’s that? He was a member of the Harbord Village Residents Association. His platform stresses biking and walking as much as public transit. Mr. Grant advocates a Junk Food Tax and a carbon tax. During both the Rogers’ candidates debate and on The Agenda’s Confronting Poverty, he came across as not only knowledgeable but collegial with his opponents.

On top of all that, he’s pictured riding a bicycle on his campaign signs!

I realize that in voting for Tim Grant, I’m doing little more than lodging a protest. There’s no hope in hell he’ll be elected. But I’m alright with that. Let it be known that I’m protesting the Liberal government and it’s too tentative embrace of a green economy in general and a strong, unapologetic public transit strategy. I’m sending out a protest to the provincial NDP. Don’t take my vote for granted. Out with the deadwood and in with new blood.

For all those reasons, tomorrow I will be voting for Tim Grant in the riding of Trinity-Spadina and The Green Party of Ontario.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr