How High Sir?

February 19, 2015

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 17 million times.

You want to fix City Hall? Start electing better city councillors. upthehillEasier said than done, for sure, given the disheartening results of last year’s municipal campaign. Thirty-seven of thirty-eight incumbents returned to office including one still under the cloud of a police investigation. Another, Frank Di Giorgio in Ward 12 York South Weston.

The councillor was on Metro Morning today along with another former budget chief, Shelley Carroll, to talk about the city’s need for more revenue, new revenue tools. “Do you think we need new taxes, Frank Di Giorgio?” asked the show’s host, Matt Galloway. Here’s how the councillor responded:

Not at this point. I think certainly, I think the one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor…

Say what?

That’s what’s important in the immediate future? City council needs to support the mayor? [Begins flipping frantically through the city’s Code of Conduct for Members of Council. Must support the mayor…Must support the mayor….] fealtyNope. Not seeing that stipulation.

Councillor Di Giorgio has been a local representative for almost 30 years now, at City Hall in amalgamated Toronto since 2000. This is the sum of all his civic wisdom. “I think one thing that’s important in the immediate future is that we have to support the mayor.”

If the councillor actually believes that — and he’s not alone in that way of thinking, sadly, in talking to a candidate during last year’s election who was running against another deadweight incumbent, I was told that a few years earlier in discussing with the councillor why he had voted a certain way, he was told that, You gotta support the boss — why bother with city council races in the first place? Just elect a mayor, be done with it. No messy debates to deal with, rubber stamp city council meetings, items all passed with a waxed red royal seal.

Parsing Councillor Di Giorgio’s go along to get along logic a little further, consider his 2014 re-election. At Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall has done fantastic work breaking down the numbers October’s election. waxsealA look at the results in Ward 12 shows that less than one in five voters there voted for John Tory. The councillor fared little better, garnering under 30% of the popular vote where just over 1300 ballots separated him from the 4th place challenger.

So, less than one in three voters gave Councillor Di Giorgio a mandate to unwaveringly support a mayor who fewer than one in five Ward 12 voters backed? It’s how first-past-the-post elections work, I get it, but it’s almost as if the councillor thinks we have some sort of presidential system at City Hall, though. The Big Guy wins. You fall in line behind the Big Guy.

Councillor Di Giorgio’s views on such ring-kissing fealty to the mayor also extends to city staff. As Jude MacDonald reminded me, back during the last administration when the councillor was still TTC commissioner and voted to fire then-CEO Gary Webster, he had his reasons. “Excellence in bureaucracy means the ability to perform tasks that are consistent with leaders of a corporation, the leaders of a city,” he declared. “It’s the ability to put forward positions that are consistent with positions adopted by the mayor.”

Your councillor for Ward 12 York South Weston, folks.  Frank Di Giorgio.

So, city councillors are elected to merely to serve at the pleasure of the mayor. Such passiveness from Di Giorgio extends to the city’s dealings with the province evidently. jumphighhowDuring the Metro Morning discussion, he said exploring the idea of more revenue tools will simply let the province off the hook for paying their share of stuff like social housing. They’ve already stopped paying, Councillor Carroll pointed out. That’s why the city’s scrambling to plug the hole in its operating budget. That’s why we need to a discussion about new revenues. It’s all on us now.

The councillor was having none of it. No need to rush. We already have revenue tools in the arsenal, like the Land Transfer Tax which is bringing in substantial amounts of money to the city coffers. Maybe we could milk some more from that cash cow. If not, the City of Toronto Act is coming up for renewal in a few years, 2018 or so. Let’s revisit this discussion then. In the meantime, don’t ‘undermine the mayor’s initiatives’ because that would be ‘dangerous’. Loose lips sink ships, I guess.

Councillors like Frank Di Giorgio are throwbacks to an era when municipalities were little more than wards of the province, where we were given the property tax to play with, to largely pay for local initiatives, roads, sewers, maybe a portion of public transit. A time when the province contributed substantially more to the overall operations of this city than it sees fit to now. As Councillor Carroll (as well as the city manager, Joe Pennachetti) pointed out, Toronto is a big boy now, closing in on 3 million people. asleeponthejobIt’s time we put on our big boy pants and realize we’ve been pushed out of the nest.

Provincial contributions to the well-being of this city will be grudging and probably when it is only politically advantageous for them to do so. We can act like two year-olds and hold our breath until we turn blue in the face in hopes of changing their attitude but, well, umm, I wouldn’t…hold my breath. But that’s what Mayor Tory has in mind, and loyal foot soldiers like Councillor Di Giorgio see it as his job to follow the mayor’s marching orders.

After all, that’s what he’s been doing for three decades now. That’s what he was elected to do.

at your servicely submitted by Cityslikr


The Wild West — Challenger Endorsements II

October 2, 2014

wildwest

Three west northwest wards may give us some sense of where voters’ heads are at come October 27th. One is an open ward, up for grabs after an Etobicoke institution took a briefly successful stab at provincial politics. The other two are occupied by long time incumbents who, I was going to say, have seen better days but, actually, they probably haven’t.

Just how anti-incumbency (or not) are we at this point? Very much so? Somewhat? Not at all? Will name recognition, as it usually does on election day, trump any itch for something new?

 

endorsement1

Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre

Just when we thought we’d heard the last of the Li’l Ginny type ramblings of Toronto City Hall’s Grampa Simpson, Doug Holyday, in steps his son, Stephen (whom we’ll refrain from referring to as Homer) into his dad’s shoes. Far be it from us to look askance on anyone simply because of their lineage. Just so long as Holyday the Younger doesn’t try to capitalize on his family name for his political entry.

Yeah. Uh huh. That apple certainly hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

The thing is, watching the Rogers Ward 3 debate, most of the council candidates have landed in the same vicinity. Low taxes. Find efficiencies. Privatize public services. Oh yeah. And keep our services up to snuff too. It’s like some Etobicoke creed.

Separate from all that is Peter Fenech who we talked to back in September. He is a quiet, new voice out there in the wilderness, unwilling to reflexively reject the positive role government can play in our lives and the costs associated with that. He is well versed in how City Hall works and would represent a whole new type of discourse, flowing eastward in from Etobicoke.

On October 27th we endorse Peter Fenech for city councillor in Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre.

 

endorsement2

Ward 7 York West

Anywhere else, this ward’s incumbent, Giorgio Mammoliti, would be cooling his heels outside of an election campaign. When last heard from, the city’s integrity commissioner had requested a police investigation into the councillor’s accepting of $80,000 from a questionable fundraiser earlier this year. And that’s just for starters.

Mammoliti is once again facing off against Nick DiNizio who is still bearing David Miller era grudges. Aside from their respective political track records (Mammoliti: Eeewww! DiNizio: None), there’s not much to differentiate between the two men.

One glimmer of daylight in the race is Keegan Henry-Mathieu. We talked to him back in July and, boy, what a breath of fresh air he’d be down at City Hall. He’s everything his two opponents aren’t. Knowledgeable about municipal politics. Not inherently anti-tax. All for engaging the wider Ward 7 community in how they expect their city to run.

On October 27th, we endorse Keegan Henry-Mathieu for city councillor in Ward 7 York West.

 

endorsement3

Ward 12 York South-Weston

This race couldn’t be any crazier.

One bumbling, ineffective incumbent councillor. A former mayoral candidate, Member of Parliament, lobbyist and brother of the outgoing city council speaker. A now third time council candidate, and son of a real estate magnate and former interim city councillor.

Throw in some slashed tires and broken campaign office windows and let’s call it an olde tyme dirty old York city council race.

Then there’s Lekan Olawoye.

If Ward 12 voters were really anxious to jettison the past, and get on with the future, Mr. Olawoye would be the clear choice. We went out canvassing with him back in July and found him to be polished, very focussed on the needs of the residents and not attached in the least to old bromides and tired political saws that have got nothing done that needs to be done for decades now.

On October 27th, we endorse Lekan Olawoye for city councillor in Ward 12 York South-Weston.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch V

July 10, 2014

“Neglect”.

That’s the one word answer I got from Lekan Olawoye when I asked him what it was he was hearing from people in Ward 12 York-South Weston while out canvassing. lekanNot complaints about high property taxes. Nothing about subways versus LRTs. Just plain old “neglect.”

In fact, he’d met a resident living in the ward for 50 years who told him that he was the first municipal candidate ever to come knocking on her door.

It might come as a surprise to many of us who live in Toronto’s politically vigorous areas, let’s call them, where town halls and community meetings draw big crowds. Where our local representatives show up at our doors on a regular basis or respond quickly to our questions and concerns. Neglect? Wouldn’t be the word we’d use.

But take a walk along forlorn sections of Eglinton Ave West, around Keele Street and see what happens when the representative at City Hall isn’t particularly mindful of building thriving neighbourhoods. Empty storefronts. Little street life. Just a thoroughfare people buzz past on their way to someplace else.

This part of the city is the left behind section. Once a solid middle class area with good, well paying jobs not all that far away from home. ward12yorksouthwestonNow a place with much “untapped human resource”, as one Olawoye campaign volunteer and long time Ward 12er told me. Untapped for many reasons, many of those beyond a city’s control, but certainly for some that come down to local representation that just doesn’t get it, doesn’t know how to respond. It’s just there, shrugging obliviously.

So the simple fact of the matter is, in Ward 12, like many of the other inner suburb wards, engagement comes down to basic retail politics. Being available. Acting quickly on very specific, very local needs. Potholes. Basement flooding. Street parking. Serving as a conduit to help negotiate communication between residents and city departments and services.

Lekan Olawoye seems to get that. His pitch is simple. What can I do to make your life easier and better? I’m here to help.

It smacked a little to me of the current administration’s obsession with ‘customer service’. I asked him for more details about his pledge for ‘better transit, support for families, reduced poverty, safer streets and healthier communities.’ All of which any candidate will inevitably tout. These are the whats. Tell me a little bit more about the hows.

That’s not there yet, the nitty gritty details of exactly how you plan to transform systemic problems. ringbellWorking with the TTC to sort out bunching of buses followed by long waits has stumped many a well-intentioned people. Lofty goals need thoughtful and innovative approaches to stay afloat.

But here’s what I’m only beginning to understand about municipal politics. Voters need to really believe that a candidate is there to work for their sometimes very personal interests. They want to know you will be available to help sort out the most basic, mundane of everyday problems and situations they face. If that kind of trust and engagement is not present, they’ll walk back and demand nothing more than just keeping their taxes low and their streets clean.

That’s the hill Lekan is climbing in Ward 12. Years, decades even, of neglect, in his words, by the councillors it sends to City Hall have made it difficult for new voices to convince people that it can actually be different, better. City Hall doesn’t have to be this foreign place, an hour or so trip, off and away downtown.

The situation also leaves lots of room for hope, though.

And Lekan does deliver a lot of hope and enthusiasm.strangeratthedoor

He works the doors of the canvass smoothly and charmingly. While this is his first campaign as a candidate, you wouldn’t know it to see him interact with people during the canvass. He’s personable, friendly and outgoing. At one point of time I watched him actually engage a soccer fan for a quick introduction and chat during the penalty kicks of last night’s Argentina-Netherlands World Cup semi-final.

He has been at this almost since the very beginning of the campaign in January. So he’s getting good at what any candidate needs to get good at. Meet and greet. Meet and greet. Lekan’s also no stranger to the wider world of politics and community involvement. He is currently the Executive of For Youth Initiative, a local non-profit that provides services and programs to youth who live in a part of the city severely under-serviced. Lekan was also the first chair of the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities.

He has what appears to be a well-oiled campaign machine, bursting with eager volunteers who fan out across the street as the two of us stand, chatting. That’s going to be absolutely necessary as he’s taking on an entrenched incumbent in Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. From my view point, it should be cinch. Councillor Di Giorgio ranks near the very bottom on my list of terrible, terrible municipal representatives. lekan1As Mayor Ford’s second budget chief, he constantly seemed out of his depth. As a local councillor, he comes across as simply disinterested in doing the job.

Unfortunately, politics at the city level seldom work out that way. Name recognition plays a big factor in determining the outcome. Challengers have to be relentless in getting themselves out there, getting their faces known, convincing voters in the ward that taking a risk on change will be worth it.

Lekan Olawoye appears to be making that kind of dent in Ward 12. On Tuesday night, he had 3 of the tires on his car slashed in his driveway. What? That’s like movie shit, says me, the political neophyte. But Lekan chose to see the upside in it.

“Somebody knows we’re here,” he said.

I guess so. I’ll take the candidate’s word for it. It’s a good sign.

optimistically submitted by Cityslikr


Go, Go, Go Giorgio

March 18, 2014

STOP THE (WORD) PRESSES!!

stopthepressesBreaking news in our Wards To Watch 2014!

Yesterday, Keegan Henry-Mathieu registered to run for city councillor in Ward 7 York West.

Why is this so newsworthy? Two words. Giorgio Mammoliti.

In our very first post of this series, we implored voters of Ward 7 to rid our city of this clown prince of municipal politics. Along with the Ford Brothers and Councillor Frances Nunziata, Mammoliti makes up one third of the unholy triumvirate of City Hall’s masters of divisiveness, discord and dysfunction. I know much of the campaign focus has been and will continue to be on the mayor’s race with an eye to ending the current reign of error but I cannot stress enough how chasing Giorgio Mammoliti from council would contribute to restoring much calm, decorum and civility as well.chasetheclown

As the councillor likes to point out regularly, in an attempt to deepen the urban-suburban fault line to his advantage, his ward never gets anything. And exactly whose fault is that, Giorgio? In his capacity as both an MPP and then city councillor for the area since 1990, more than a little of the blame should rest on his shoulders. He made it clear repeatedly throughout this term that it was a subway or nothing along Finch Avenue even if his residents had to wait a 100 years. His constant motions to freeze property taxes would also serve to provide a whole lot of nothing for Ward 7 residents.

Councillor Mammoliti also appears to hold the adherence to rules in as much disdain as he does his constituents. shirtlessmammolitiDuring this term, he’s been dinged with some ethical taint not once, not twice but three times. There are those 2010 campaign spending charges. There’s that questionable fundraiser now under investigation by Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner. Last fall, it was suggested that the councillor was paying below market rent owned by a developer that does business with the city.

It all adds up to a big ol’ bucket of What the Fuck? Just whose interests has Councillor Mammoliti been serving at City Hall?

While no official endorsement at this point, I will say that Keegan Henry-Mathieu appears on the tattered political landscape of Ward 7 like a refreshing breeze. I’ve met him a couple times in passing. He is some engaged, having spent time at City Hall as part of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, with an interest on issues like poverty, priority neighbourhoods, nutritional programs and equity. He would represent a much needed new voice on council and for Ward 7.keepcalmandturnthepage

Along with Lekan Olawoye who is challenging long time Ward 12 York South-Weston incumbent, Frank Di Giorgio, maybe Mr. Henry-Mathieu represents a new wave rising up against the old guard in the former city of York. If we could get somebody willing to step into the ring with Ward 11 York South-Weston councillor, Frances Nunziata, it might just be a movement stirring. A new generation of politicians, truly representing a post-amalgamated Toronto.

First, they take York. Then, they take Scarborough…

A guy can dream, can’t he?

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Loyal To Whom? (Who? Whom?)

February 27, 2014

In the inevitable sitcom that will arise from the ashes of the 2010-14 term at City Hall, we’ll have Gordon Pinsent playing the rich, misanthropic suburban council with a taste for certain vices but an earthy ability to mouth catchy populist platitudes.sitcom Leah Pinsent will portray his wily and ruthless campaign manager/chief of staff who’s the only one her father (both on and off the set…I’m so meta) is truly afraid of, and who keeps the mayor on message if not always on the straight and narrow. Ron James is the shouty and long suffering, left wing east side city councillor, fighting a losing battle against the creeping gentrification of his working class ward. Peter Keleghan, the oleaginous senior city staffer with the silky savvy to tell his elected overseers exactly what they want to hear without saying a single thing that makes a lick of sense.

And in the role of the bumbling, know-nothing but generally amiable councillor with a propensity for nodding off during meetings, and who keeps getting returned to City Hall, election after election despite never making any sort of contribution there? Sean Cullen? Andy Jones?

Who’d you pick for your Councillor Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12 York-South Weston)?scorchedearth1

Because, let’s face it, the man’s a walking, talking, living, breathing sitcom character of a city councillor. Our very own Inspector Clouseau, making a hash of things up the ladder of municipal politics since 2000, and for 12 years before that as a North York city councillor, until he winds all the way up to the lofty position of budget chief. The budget chief, people. For a city of over 2.5 million. Frank Di Giorgio. Budget chief.

Granted, we have been experiencing a type of political event horizon for the past 4 years. Anything is possible, including a Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio scenario. It probably says more about the Ford administration, that all it had in its quiver after the resignation of the previous budget chief, the loathsome Mike Del Grande, was the not loathsome Frank Di Giorgio.

Still.

I say it again.

clouseauBudget Chief Frank Di Giorgio.

Undistinguished is how I would best summarize my perception of Frank Di Giorgio. Undistinguished with a passing note of incompetence. Again, as with all these profiles we’re doing, I have to admit that the man could be a crackerjack constituent councillor, doing a bang up job for his residents. After being in elected office for 25 of the last 28 years, he must be doing something other than just putting his name out there, right? Right, Ward 12?

I’d easily rate him up there in the top 3 of city councillors to ask questions of staff and their colleagues that elicit the most baffled of responses. I’m sorry, Councillor Di Giorgio. Could you repeat your answer? I didn’t quite understand what you were asking me.

There was that time, back during deputations for the 2012 budget when the councillor did his funky mash-up of social housing and ghettos. You know, poor people. Living together in one building. We all watched Good Times, didn’t we? It was funny but…at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather be The Jeffersons?

I’m sorry, Councillor Di Giorgio. I didn’t quite understand what you’re getting at.goodtimes

I don’t think of him as the malicious sort, like his predecessor in the budget chair, nor intentionally destructive. It’s more a question of being out of his depth. Why strive for anything more than keeping taxes low and the streets paved and plowed? Does it have to be more complicated than that?

I will give Councillor Frank Di Giorgio full marks for loyalty though. When tapped for the job of budget chief by the Fords, the man did his utmost to deliver what his bosses wanted, up to and beyond defying the laws of physics* and sound economic policy. Yeah, Mr. Mayor. We probably can push down that property tax hike a bit while still making room for money to build your Scarborough subway. Yeah, why not. Let’s see if we can trim that Land Transfer Tax, yet another source of revenue, just a hair. fiercelyloyalCouncillor Di Giorgio even went along for a bit of a joy ride on Mayor Ford’s budget day wild goose chase, tracking down millions of dollars in cuts nobody would even notice.

Cut $7 million from this year’s planned tree planting? Why not. Council’s general business and travel accounts? Who needs them. $2 million in program increases in the operating budget? Gone. Gone, gone, gonzo.

But perhaps Councillor Di Giorgio’s most important vote happened a couple months prior to this year’s budget.

Back in November, he was one of the few councillors that voted against stripping Mayor Ford of his procedural powers after the crack video scandal broke wide. The councillor didn’t even want the mayor to apologize for lying about the whole crack smoking business. Now, that’s loyalty, folks. Forgive and forget. Let’s just move on.

Such a display of loyalty earned Councillor Di Giorgio high props from Mayor Ford who named him one of the very few councillors, a handful really, that he thought worthy enough to be voted back on to council in this upcoming election. As the mayor’s made abundantly clear over the last few days, he doesn’t work with just anybody down there at City Hall. tickletickletickleIt takes a special breed to earn that kind of… respect, I’d guess you could call it, from someone who doesn’t make work friends easily.

So congratulations, Ward 12. Your long time councillor has dutifully earned himself an elite spot on Mayor Rob Ford’s thumbs-up roster, those who supported the mayor ‘when times were tough’. (Episode 2: Ford Nation). The few. The proud. The easily cowed.

Councillor Frank Di Giorgio. Certified member of the tattered remains of the once triumphant Team Ford.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

* Not actually defying the law of physics. Added purely for emphasis of the ludicrousness of the mayor’s budgetary expectations.