Left To Their Own Devices

December 9, 2014

From Jon Caulfield’s The Tiny Perfect Mayor (1974):

This fatalism was shared by many reform leaders and candidates themselves. For the press, at fund-raising parties, at rallies and public meetings, they were mostly all capable of bursts of optimism…But pressed privately in ones and twos, they were often unsure, their confidence watery. Because their movement was, at root, a fragile marriage of convenience drawn together only by informal networks of key individuals, communication among them was haphazard, and fragmentary, in some cases nearly non-existent; for the most part they had no way of knowing about the progress of campaigns outside of their own parts of town.

Forty years on, this passage struck me as still wholly relevant when looking back through the ashes of the 2014 municipal election campaign, an election where the old guard of all political stripes ran roughshod over its competition.steamroll

Nobody who seriously throws their hat into the ring to become a political candidate can do so without at least a sliver of belief they can win. No matter how small a sliver, how big the odds, how steep the uphill climb to victory might be, there’s always a chance, remote, outside or not. Otherwise, you wouldn’t dedicate the time and energy necessary to mount even the most basic of campaigns.

In late October, I heard through the grapevine that such-and-such a candidate was, according to internal polls, within striking distance of such-and-such an incumbent. Candidate X had jumped into an improbable lead in Ward Y. In the end, neither rumour of glory came close to being true. A respectable showing would be the best one might claim of the results. Pretty much throughout the entire city.

By their very nature, election campaigns are built on hard work and false hopes. rubbertreeplantThere will always be more losers than winners but for a democracy to remain vibrant, everyone thinking about a run for office has to believe that that this time is their time. You can apply other metrics to what constitutes a successful campaign – increased voter turnout, say, — in the end though? Well, close only counts in horseshoes and grenades. Or, as a springboard to another crack at it four years hence.

Perpetual optimism mixed with battle worn realism.

When I met up with Idil Burale a couple weeks back, pretty much a month after her run for a city council seat in Ward 1 Etobicoke North, there was a lot more realism than optimism in her take on how things had gone. A very promising challenger to one term councillor deadweight, Vincent Crisanti, Burale finished a disappointing 5th place in race where Crisanti increased his plurality from 2010 simply by being the Fordest of Ford supporters in one of the Fordest of wards in the city.

It should’ve been so easy. A terrible, do-nothing incumbent versus a brand new voice of the community. Faced with such a clear option, how could Ward 1 voters not jump at the opportunity to make a change?

Yeah well, funny story…davidandgoliath1

First, a declaration of interest on my part.

I met Idil a couple (three?) years ago, at some event or another that led to us hosting an evening to talk about the urban-suburban divide. I (along with a few hopeful others) gently encouraged her to consider a run in 2014 election. When she finally decided to take the plunge, I was involved early on in the campaign, helping with content, messaging. I even timidly and awkwardly knocked on doors as part of two or three canvasses.

Everybody was cautiously optimistic, I think. Winning the thing wasn’t the be-all. If Idil could even just affect the conversation during the campaign or get out the vote in a ward that had the lowest turnout in 2010, it could still be considered a success.

In the end, I don’t know if even those modest goals were achieved. Like every other ward in the city it seems, the only conversation people wanted to have was about the mayor’s race. rollingrockI’m not alone in asserting that the 2014 campaign was essential a mayoral referendum. Rob/Doug Ford, yes or no? Everything else at city council could be fixed in editing.

That said, I don’t think it’s an unfair assessment of the Burale campaign to suggest that it never really gelled into a smooth running operation. There were personnel problems, mostly of the kind that there were never enough people to do the jobs that needed to get done. In the end, Burale thinks they knocked on about 80% of the doors in the ward which, as impressive as it sounds, isn’t nearly enough.

The general rule of thumb is that a successful campaign needs to hit every door at least 2 times, maybe 3 when all is said and done. Despite our hope and belief in advanced technology, campaigns are still won and lost on the ground, real live bodies going out to meet real live people, once, twice, three times, driving them to the polling station on election day if need be to make sure they vote. Without those troops, there isn’t the necessary voter outreach. Candidates unable to swamp doors in their wards remain unknown entities with no name recognition factor.

This points to perhaps the biggest problem the Burale campaign faced. There simply wasn’t enough community support at the local level at the beginning of the campaign. trekDowntowners (like me) formed a large part of her team in the early going.

It’s an especially acute problem for wards in the inner suburbs. Ward 1 sits in the most north-westerly spot in the city. Without local support, people able to get to a canvass meeting spot in 15 minutes, half an hour rather than an hour and a half, 2 hours, it’s difficult to amass a regular, reliable team of volunteers. Without a regular, reliable team of volunteers, well, you tend to finish in 5th place.

Idil also picked up very little ‘institutional’ help. By this I mean the party and riding association machines that always play an integral part even in officially non-party municipal campaigns. For whatever reasons (and I am certainly privy to none), there was no backing from either the ward’s Liberal MPP or MP thrown her way. Despite receiving the labour council backing, Burale found herself competing against an unofficial NDP candidate.goodluck

There may well have been good reasons for that situation but the fact can’t be ignored if an outsider candidate remains on the outside, the odds of them running successfully remain very long.

No amount of social media adoration is going to change that. Burale was one of a number of challengers, especially out in the suburban wards, who garnered a lot of Twitter attention along with endorsements from both old and new media, only to see it not translate into electoral success. Martyrs to the progressive cause, fueling our sense of wonder at what’s wrong with people out in the suburbs.

Turns out, you can’t just flick on the civic engagement switch come election year. Wards like Etobicoke North aren’t imbued with a history of strong citizen activism in their local governance. What groups there are don’t seem particularly connected or, in the words of Jon Caulfied in describing the early-70s City Hall reformers, ‘informal networks of key individuals’.diy1

There was no fertile grassroots base for a challenger like Idil Burale to draw on. Without enough outside or institutional help to make up for that, she was left to fend for herself against the power of incumbency. Even an incumbency of a second rate city councillor who has subsequently been appointed the deputy mayor of Etobicoke and York.

So pick yourself up, dust yourself off and chalk it up as a valuable learning experience?

Not exactly.

There was certainly something of a personal toll on Burale. Parts of the 7 month run were miserable, not at all fulfilling. So much so, at this juncture, fresh off the loss, she’s not considering another run.

A casualty to an electoral process that promotes the power of insiders and the well-connected? Change or reform doesn’t come about through the sheer strength of individual effort. We can’t pat hopefuls on the head, slap them on the back and send them out into the fight with only our high hopes and fingers crossed. overthetop1Challenging the status quo needs to be a group enterprise, uncoloured by partisan brand or parochial interests.

Candidates like Idil Burale should be applauded and congratulated for trying to roll that rock up the hill. We just have to stop thinking they can do it on their own and then expect a different, a better result in the end. That’s the definition of crazy. Crazy and lazy.

discontentedly submitted by Cityslikr


Overcoming The Power Of Incumbency — Challenger Endorsement IV

October 6, 2014

You got to dance with the one that brung ya.

theonethatbrungya

A few years back, Doug Ford suggested you can’t buy loyalty. That may be true but, looking at Vincent Crisanti’s short tenure as councillor for Ward 1 Etobicoke North, you certainly can help elect loyalty. Municipal politics followers here in Toronto can fault Vincent Crisanti for many, many things but loyalty would not be one of them. At least not loyalty to the Ford brand.sinkingship

Just last week, at the latest installment of Ford Fest, Crisanti proudly stood up on stage to introduce the mayor to the crowd in Rob Ford’s first public appearance since a medical diagnosis sidelined him from the race. The good ship S.S. Team Ford may be listing, taking on serious water, but Vincent Crisanti fervently plays on, piping its tune. The Fords made him, politically speaking, in 2010 after a couple failed electoral attempts. He clearly isn’t prepared to walk away in this, their time of need.

Go Ford or Go Home, seems to be Crisanti’s re-election bid.timeforchange1

“I am the only experienced candidate supporting a fiscally responsible, pro-growth agenda that respects you, the Taxpayer,” states Crisanti in a campaign website letter to his Dear Residents. Respect for Taxpayers, am I right? The Ford Way.

Aside from loyalty, you’ve got to tip your hat to Crisanti for playing to his strength, his one and only strength. Of course, he may not have any choice since his weaknesses as city councillor are legion. Few others at City Hall have seemed so out of their depth over the past 4 years as Vincent Crisanti has. There was no seeming learning curve on his part either. Vincent Crisanti in 2014 was just like Vincent Crisanti in 2010. Substandard and irrelevant.

You might think that would be enough to ensure defeat on October 27th. You’d be wrong. City council has more than its share of deadweight incumbents looking for another kick at the can. A while back I asked a more experience political watcher how one particularly terrible councillor kept getting voted into office election after election. “They make sure to fix 6000 fences every term,” was the answer.exclude

Give enough of your constituents the impression of competence, keep them happy sorting out fence exemptions and parking problems, and you can basically write your ticket to indefinite incumbency. More specifically, give those in the ward who are most likely to vote – older, more affluent, homeowners – the impression of serving their interests and an incumbent can become very, very difficult to dislodge. Pay lip service, at best, to those not fitting that profile.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the ward with the lowest voter turnout in 2010 ended up with the likes of Vincent Crisanti as its representative at City Hall. That also could be the key to defeating him in October. Engage the disengaged. Activate the base he ignores. New voices, new ideas, new representation.

endorsement2

Challenger Idil Burale is all that. (Full disclosure: I worked on Ms. Burale’s campaign.) She is the non-Crisanti base of support in Ward 1. Question is, will that be enough to overcome the inherent status quo in almost every election campaign? Is it possible to rally the disaffected in enough numbers to build a movement?

We featured a post on Idil Burale last month from Samuel Getachew. He certainly thinks so, seeing Burale as a real vehicle for change in Ward 1, Etobicoke and the city. We agree. That’s why we endorse Idil Burale for city councillor in Ward 1 Etobicoke North.

submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch XVII

September 18, 2014

(We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been friends with Ward 1 Etobicoke North’s city council candidate, Idil Burale, for a few years now. In fact, we’ve put in some time working on her campaign. So, there’s some question of objectivity when it comes to writing up her profile. Luckily, Ms. Burale has more than her share of fans excited about her candidacy. One, Samuel Getachew, a Toronto based community journalist and political activist, busily preparing his Canadian Perspective site, wrote an article about her a while back and was generous to let us share it with us.)

*  *  *

Unlocking City Hall’s potential: a new voice for Etobicoke North

In a room full of distinguished citizens – Former Prime Minister John Turner, Conservative strategist Jamie Watt, former Mayoral candidate Karen Stintz – at Royal York Hotel last year, the only person I wanted to have a conversation was with Idil Bruale.

The only subject I wanted to discuss with her was about her potential candidacy for municipal office in 2014. I had heard a rumour she might be a candidate and I was excited. However, she told me she would not be a candidate and I was disappointed.

How could I not be?

Burale is an eloquent, smart and ambitious young person that would bring much substance and initiative to our local government. I have enjoyed her thoughtful insights over the years on outlets such as TVO’s The Agenda and CBC radio and she is exactly the kind of person one should encourage to be active in electoral politics.

In the tradition that mere months in politics is a life time, the 28-year-old has recently announced that she would indeed be a candidate in 2014. She is running in Etobicoke North‏’s Ward 1 against Councillor Vincent Crisanti, a loyalist and mouth piece to Mayor Rob Ford. I am glad she is running and is giving her neighbours a better destination to support.

Beyond her youthful lofty ideal and objectives in social justice issues, Burale knows the potential and limitation of governments as she has been mentored and employed by noted area politicians such as MPP’S Mike Colle and Glen Murray. She understands retail politics as much as the responsibilities of governments.

What makes the young dynamo even more attractive is her civic participation.

For instance, she has made a great impression with the Rexdale Priority Neighbourhood Youth Solutions Group, organizing an event called Youth Solutions, in search of practical solutions to discuss important policy issues that affect youth disproportionally such as unemployment, policing, and a culture of low expectations at schools. For her, as she reflected with Inside Toronto, “the youth wants to be able to contribute to help find solutions for the neighborhood from everything such as employment to safety.”

She is also a member of Toronto District School Board’s task force for the success of Somali Canadian students in addressing a depressingly high level of drop outs. At the Toronto Police Service Board, she was a member of Community Safety Task Force that just concluded its work and produced an important policy report.

At the Toronto Police Service Board, she is a member of a task force on community safety and she also sits on an external advisory committee comprised of community members who are to assist in implementation of 31 recommendations. She also served with PACER, an internal Toronto Police Services initiative, of which she is accepted a three year membership of the external advisory committee helping the force in the implementation of 31 recommendations.

She is a founding member of Positive Change TO, Women in Toronto Politics, Academy of the Impossible and the Policing Literacy Initiative – an idea of the inspiring Jamil Jivani, a recent Yale Law School graduate. According to Jivani, an inspiring and engaged citizen himself, it’s to being “20 young leaders bringing new ideas and diverse perspectives to improve police services and community safety in Toronto and abroad”.

The ever busy Burale is currently pursuing an innovation leadership fellowship at MaRS Discovery District on systems change called Studio Y.

She was honoured by Samara in its 2013 Everyday Political Citizen (previously called Canada25) contest as its runner up candidate. Her nominator, University of Toronto’s Rima Berns-McGown, described her as “thoughtful, wise, diplomatic, perspicacious, funny, passionate; a community leader who understands the issues and who never puts her own interests before those of the people she serves; someone who cares about Toronto as a city and Canada as a country; and someone who is self-effacing and kind”.

She added – “If every political leader were like Idil, what an amazing city, province, and country this would be. I nominate her for Etobicoke North. I would vote for her anywhere”.

Indeed. Add me to the long list of admirers of such a special citizen in Idil Bruale.

submitted by Samuel Getachew


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

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Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr