Four Sures — City Council Challenger Endorsements VII

October 9, 2014

The Four Sures are a subset of our Essential Eight city council challenger endorsements, an entirely subjective (as if this whole process isn’t heavily subjective) categorization based on little more than just the positive reaction in sitting down, talking. These four candidates (two today, two more tomorrow), I could’ve hung out with them, drinking coffee, discussing their ideas for the city, for hours. Imagine how great it’ll be for the next four years!

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Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina

It’s impossible to see a bad outcome in this race to replace Adam Vaughan. As far as I can tell, there are 3 or 4 candidates who could more than ably fill the former councillor’s shoes. I mean the worst outcome on October 27th will be a Joe Cressy victory, and we could survive that.

But for my money Anshul Kapoor is the best bet for Ward 20. Instrumental in building the NoJetsTO grassroots push against the island airport expansion, the possibilities of what he could do in an official capacity like city councillor are truly exciting. He represents a new wave of young people moving downtown, raising their families there because of the richness of the public domain rather than the vastness of their private space. Build neighbourhoods not just condos, he told me. Let him continue that conversation down at City Hall.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Anshul Kapoor for city council in Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina.

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Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest

Let me just sum up my pure admiration for Bob Spencer by lifting a quote (like I did for the post I wrote about the Spencer campaign last month) from his interview with David Hains in the Torontoist.

The reality is the city is only great because its people are great. The city only works well because we all get together and work together. I think there’s a whole slew of issues that are missed—if you only look at the hard services in a city, you miss what makes a city useful: art, culture, community education, good health programs, and good nutrition programs for kids. Those are all within the mandate of the City. They’re all much more interesting than arguing about whether eight years from now an environmental assessment is going to be put on this alignment or that alignment, this number of stations or that number of stations.

The added bonus is Spencer’s running against one of the most spectacularly ineffective and insignificant city councillors at City Hall, mayoral portraitist and musical accompanist, Gary Crawford. Spencer lost the council race in 2010 by about 400 votes. It would be a tremendous addition to city council if he turns that result around on October 27th.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke endorse Robert Spencer for city council in Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest.

hopefully helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch XV

September 11, 2014

When former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson switched (*ahem, ahem*) horses over to a run for city council in Ward 20 Trinity Spadina earlier this week, ward20she threatened to suck the remaining oxygen from the race. An open ward after the departure of Adam Vaughan to the rank of MP in Ottawa, already with 27 candidates vying to fill the vacancy although there does seem to be some last minute consolidation ahead of tomorrow’s registration deadline, something of a known entity in local politics like Thomson could well vault to near the head of the pack, based solely on name recognition. She was a second place finisher in the riding encompassing Ward 20 in the 2011 provincial election and now would be facing the second place finisher in this summer’s federal by-election, Joe Cressy.

Here’s the funny thing, though. Neither of them are the best candidate in the race. Not even close. That honour goes to Anshul Kapoor.

If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll probably know his work. Kapoor is the founder and chair of NoJetsTO, standouta grassroots group that sprung up to fight Porter Air and the Toronto Port Authority’s attempt at expanding the island airport to allow jet flights from it. To date, NoJetsTO has been successful. The mad rush to get council approval earlier this year was fended off. The city has a long list of conditions that have to be met before negotiations even begin.

It is an organization that has spread its support far beyond Ward 20 and all along the waterfront. Chatting to candidate in Ward 3 a few weeks back, he told me there’s a sizable NoJetsTO presence when he’s out knocking on doors in central Etobicoke. It is community organizing at its best.

What else do you want from your city councillor? The ability to help bring people together in a way that contributes to and affects the life of your community. There really isn’t any stronger endorsement than that.

Fighting airport expansion was Kapoor’s first foray into political involvement. It was an issue that hit close to home. anshulkapoor1He and his wife moved to the waterfront in Ward 20 in 2010. They chose to do so because, for them, the ward represents the cultural and development epicentre of the city. It was where they wanted to raise their family. Being so close to the island airport was simply a bonus.

Until the expansion talk, bringing with it the push for jets. For Kapoor, that was a threat not only to his quality of life but that of every nearby neighbourhood. Once neighbourhoods come under duress, the building blocks of a vibrant city get chipped away at.

Just in case you think Anshul Kapoor is a one trick pony, someone representing a pushback on development, a Johnny-come-lately NIMBY type, you’d be wrong. He wants to promote development in a way that encourages a less transitory nature in the ward where young people pass through when they’re at school or just starting out in their careers and relationships, only to move on when it comes to raising a family. That means more family friendly building, more mixed income and affordable units. anshulkapoorIt means fighting to implement inclusionary zoning, to establish a percentage of affordable units be included in new developments.

“How is Toronto preparing for 2050?” Kapoor asks. Anyone seeking the city councillor job in Ward 20 has to be very, very mindful of the impact of development, 10 years down the road, 20 years, 30. Will the proper infrastructure be in place to handle such an enormous population increase? It’s already groaning under the strain. With projects like the Gehry buildings on King Street on the horizon, the pressure is only going to increase. The next Ward 20 councillor has to be prepared to tackle that.

How do they do that? Start talking about the ‘opportunity cost’ of low taxation, for one. What it costs us as a city to maintain a low tax base and restricted revenue streams. An over-crowded transit system. Crumbling and compromised infrastructure. Depleted public spaces. “Adult conversations,” says Kapoor, “lead to productive discourse.”frankgehry

Not only is Ward 20 a key centre for residential growth, it’s the 4th largest tech hub in North America, bringing in billions of dollars to the city annually. It needs to be nurtured and given all the opportunities to thrive. Kapoor believes Ward 20 businesses need to be promoted, their importance to the city, region and country ‘shouted from the rooftops’.

Anshul Kapoor wants to represent Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina at City Hall because it is his story. It lured him downtown from the outer suburbs of the GTA. It provides everything he’s looking for, for him and his family’s well-being. Amenities. Vital and energetic neighbourhoods. A solid sense of community. Ward 20 introduced him to local politics.

This is the 15th instalment of our Challengers to Watch series, and while we’ve met, ward201talked to and wrote about many good, solid candidates, there’s only been a handful who struck us as primed and ready to go as city councillors. A few who have truly excited us about the prospect of them going to City Hall and fighting for the future of this city.

Anshul Kapoor is one of those. Ward 20 Trinity Spadina will do itself and the entire city a huge favour if it looks past the big name and the anointed successor and elects Anshul Kapoor as its city councillor. He helped bring the community together once already from the outside. Imagine what he’s capable of working on the inside.

enthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr


Oh, It’s You Again

July 31, 2014

I’m happy I’m not over there in Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina and have to pick a new city councillor in October.

For a couple of reasons.pheew

One, my house is actually located in Ward 19. So I’d be voting illegally if I cast a ballot in Ward 20. Although, the consequences to breaking any sort of election law in this city seem to be negligible to none if current cases are anything to go by.

Secondly, I might actually feel a little, I don’t know, badly not voting for Joe Cressy for a second time in less than a year.

Don’t get me wrong. He seems like a nice enough guy with his heart in the right place. He says all the right things for all the right causes. joecressyI mean, I’ve never even been to Africa, let alone, worked with HIV and AIDS projects there.

Credentials?

Joe Cressy’s got the progressive credentials in spades, my friends.

But I’ll tell you something.

When he was running in June for the federal seat in Trinity-Spadina left vacant by Olivia Chow and her bid to become the next mayor of Toronto, and I was able to vote him, I didn’t because I had no clue why it was he wanted to be my M.P. I knew exactly why his opponent, and eventual winner, and the candidate I voted for, Adam Vaughan, wanted to go to Ottawa. Cressy? Frankly, between you and me? It felt like the next entry in his C.V. This is what someone of his pedigree does next.

Now, having been turned down for that job opening, his bid for a city council seat feels like a 2nd thought. cv1A fall back plan. Don’t worry, he assures us when he announces his municipal run, he won’t run federally again in next year’s scheduled general election. Not next year.

It’s still early yet in the municipal campaign, just under 3 months to go, so we may get a better sense of why Joe Cressy wants to a Toronto city councillor. Hopefully it’s something beyond building a progressive city platitudes. Right now it feels like Joe simply wants to be a professional politician.

Am I being too unfair?

It’s probably because it also feels like he’s bringing party baggage to the proceedings. I have grown to loathe the party mechanics at City Hall. Party mechanics? you say. There’s no party politics at the municipal level. What are you talking about? Party mechanics?

Well, there is. Just behind the curtain. Not quite out of sight but far enough away to provide plausible deniability.

Look. Some of my favourite city councillors are eye deep in party affiliations. partymachineI’d like to think it doesn’t cloud their judgement, add a little colour to the way they see things. But you constantly have to ask how complete, 100% independence is possible if you owe at least a little something to the party that helped get you into office.

It’s difficult at times to look at the current council make-up and not see some party standard bearers sitting as city councillors instead of, I don’t know, just really good city councillors.

And I remain convinced that party politics played an integral part in inflicting the Scarborough subway debacle on us. A not so subtle push from Queen’s Park in order to curry favour with Scarborough voters in both provincial by and general elections. An unexpected windfall from Ottawa to put some skin in the game, as they say, for their ‘side’. stinkeyeLoyalty to party before good, rational decision making.

So yeah. I cast a wary eye in the direction of Joe Cressy’s latest candidacy. With all the advantages that come with being a political company man, there’s one pointed, challenging question he needs to answer. Exactly who’s he running to serve? His constituents? His party? His career?

Not that he has to answer me. Like I said, I don’t live in the ward. I’m just an interested observer.

just sayingly submitted by Cityslikr


An Appointment With Destiny

July 8, 2014

I get it. It’s supposed to be a mindful, deliberate process, disorderlyorderlythe appointment of an interim city councillor to fill a vacancy left behind when the duly elected councillor resigns the position during a term. The will of voters must be observed and, as best as humanly possible, adhered to.

But wouldn’t it be great if everybody threw caution to the wind and instead took a flyer on protocol and just said: This one’s a real crackerjack. Came in, gave a blockbuster of a speech, has a dynamite CV. Here, Ward [Whatever], try this one on for size. Especially this late in the term. What harm could an appointed councillor possibly do in a few short months?

Alas, no. Order (or whatever passes for order at Toronto’s City Hall these days) businessasusualmust be maintained.

So it was yesterday (as it was last year with replacement of Doug Holyday) with the appointment of new councillors in Wards 5 and 20. No fireworks. Very little surprise or suspense. Just a quiet passing of the torch to caretakers, essentially, until the start of the next term in December, to a couple of established figures. Ward 20 got a long time city staffer and social activist while a political backroomer on the south Etobicoke scene became the new Ward 5 councillor.

The only bit of intrigue during the procedure – no, wait. There were two. – came when a couple former staffers applied for the position of Ward 5 councillor. One, Nico Fidani-Diker, worked in Mayor Rob Ford’s office for a time and is on record expressing some reservations about the role Sandro Lisi played in the mayor’s life. Totally coincidentally, I’m sure, there were problems with the clock in the council chambers during his deputation which he felt got cut short by the speaker, Frances Nunziata.fingerscrossed

The other was the fate of Kinga Surma, an ex-assistant in the former city Ward 5 councillor, Peter Milczyn’s office up until last year’s provincial by-election when she went to work on the campaign of Milczyn’s rival in that race, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. A supposed amicable arrangement between Mr. Milczyn and Ms. Shurma that didn’t actually wind up that way. She was given her marching orders just a few days after Milczyn returned to the office, having lost the by-election.

Yesterday, she placed a distant 3rd in the appointment race to succeed him, providing a lesson to all political neophytes. Never, ever, publically piss on your boss’s shoes. sinkorswimOther bosses don’t look kindly on it, and won’t really extend a hand to help, given an opportunity down the road.

Unfazed by the outcome, Ms. Shurma almost immediately registered to run for the Ward 5 council seat in October’s municipal election. It was not an entirely surprising move, and one that may’ve also contributed to her lack of support by an overwhelming majority of councillors who had little interest in giving her a running start in the campaign. Hopefully for Ms. Shurma, democracy won’t be as office politics minded as the appointment process appeared to be.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


It Ain’t All Glamour And Caviar

July 7, 2014

Today, city council gathers together in a special meeting called to appoint two interim councillors to replace the recently elected members of parliament and provincial parliament respectively, yourehiredAdam Vaughan (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina) and Peter Milczyn (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore). The two join Doug Holyday, who left City Hall just last year after winning a provincial by-election against Mr. Milczyn, only to lose the seat in last month’s general election, as a triumvirate of former councillors, heading for higher orders of government before their terms in municipal office were officially over.

It got me to thinking about the role of city councillor.

All 3 of these men, Holyday, Milczyn and Vaughan, would be classified as council veterans. Including Holyday’s time as a local politician back in the annals of pre-recorded history, between them, they have about 453 years of accumulated elected experience. So I think it’s safe to say that the role of city councillor was not seen as some sort of stepping stone for any of them.poisonous

In fact, I’d hazard a guess that all 3 of their departures were precipitated, at least in some part, due to the foul air at City Hall generated by the continued stink bomb of the Ford Administration. Who, given a choice, would stick it out in such a toxic work environment? It’s going to take years to remove the sludge and de-contaminate that soil. Let’s spend some time over here in greener pastures, shall we?

Only Adam Vaughan (as far as I heard and I was in easy listening distance, living in the riding he won last week) cited a tangible reason for moving on to federal politics. He felt stymied at the municipal level in dealing fully with the big, systemic, intractable issues facing the city. His monster under the bed is affordable housing. Something the provincial government largely downloaded onto the municipalities nearly two decades ago. limitationsSomething the federal government hasn’t touched in a generation.

For Vaughan, housing was part of a wider urban agenda that Ottawa had largely neglected, save the odd political project or the two bits of gas tax thrown cities’ way, much to municipalities’ detriment. This is where the infrastructure deficit began, its source, a nearly dried-up riverbed. Mr. Vaughan heads to Parliament Hill in the hopes of completing the work he couldn’t finish as city councillor.

Which speaks volumes to the job of being a city councillor. A position some 45 people will seek to fill today, and well over two hundred (and counting) city wide in October’s municipal election.

Being a city councillor is a thankless job. It demands long hours and lots of personal sacrifice. Forget what the likes of the Fords or Sue-Ann Levys say about the gravy train and life in the clamshell. thanklessjobIt’s a grueling, 80+ hour/week occupation where you’re always on call. If that’s not the schedule the councillor representing you maintains, you need to ask why and consider voting another way in a few months time.

I’m just going to put this out there as pure opinion and an unsourced claim.

Your city councillor works much harder than your MPP or MP. They get paid less. There is no pension, no matter how long you serve, just a straight up severance package. There is no glory in what they do.

While an MP or MPP dabbles in constituency work, this is what consumes a city councillor’s time and effort. Getting sidewalks fixed. Filling potholes. Making sure garbage gets picked up properly. Dealing with basement flooding. Fence exemptions. Yes, fence exemptions. City councillors adjudicate neighbourhood spats over the height and placement of fences.cleaningupthemess

None of it head line grapping. Much of it mundane. Little of it easy to negotiate.

On top of all that, a city councillor legislates. Each month at council meetings, there are by-laws to sort through, debate and pass. Taxation implementation to consider. Transformative city development to deliberate and put into action.

And here’s the thing.

Municipal governments don’t have the full tool box at their disposal to deal with all of this. Both fiscally and jurisdictionally, council regularly has its hands tied with many of the pressing matters it faces. pleasesirThe powers of taxation are severely limited by the province. Too much of the city’s day-to-day operations are funded off the property tax base.

Say, Toronto, the 6th largest government in the country, wanted to toll its roads to pay for some of its much needed new transit. Not so fast, guys. The province controls many of the key access points to make this work properly.

Even how this city decides it wants to elect its local representation is ultimately in the hands of Queen’s Park to decide.

And don’t get me started on the OMB and the TPA, both unelected entities that serve at the pleasure of higher orders of governments but with huge stakes in the operations of Toronto.

Too many of our city councillors use this dynamic to avoid taking responsibility or making hard decisions. Ssaluteome to further their only seeming objective of keeping taxes low [*cough, cough* Denzil Minnan-Wong *cough, cough* David Shiner]. Others, because doing nothing is what they do best (*cough, cough* Frances Nunziata *cough cough* Frank Di Giorgio].

But those who soldier on, despite the limitations of their office, and endeavour to make Toronto a better city for all of its residents, they are a special breed. Under-appreciated and over-worked, it is, to paraphrase our mayor, a job I would not wish on my worst enemy. Those who accept that fact, and the challenge, are owed our utmost respect and consideration.

thankfully submitted by Cityslikr


Vaughan Gone

April 19, 2014

We should’ve known something was up when the eye glasses changed, became more bookish.

Aside from the news that Rob Ford had been elected mayor of Toronto, professorpeabodyhearing that Councillor Adam Vaughan was opting for a run at a federal seat comes a close second in terms of a bummer municipal politics turn of events. He provided much of the spark and lightness during this dark term at City Hall, sparing no opportunity to skewer and eviscerate the bumbling, destructive exploits of the Ford administration. Nothing could lift your spirits like an indignant broadside from Vaughan directed at the latest boneheaded malignancy the wrecking crew had cooked up.

He was the poster boy of anti-Fordism, held up as the example of everything that was wrong with the forces of downtown elitism at City Hall. Whippet smart, tart tongued, dismissive and derisive, his detractors, those preferring their politicians dumb and willfully ignorant, labelled Vaughan smug, pompous and arrogant. There’s certainly some truth to that. At times he came across as prickly, impatient with those not keeping up with him. catandmouseThe proverbial inability to suffer fools gladly.

But if his critics were truly honest with themselves they’d admit that what galls them most about Adam Vaughan is that he was right about this mayor and the administration he misruled. Incompetence above all else. How would you say that in Latin? Imperitiam, quod super omnia. The motto emblazoned on the Team Ford crest. Vaughan called them on it regularly and, many times, ill-manneredly.

Should he have been more temperate in his engagement? Maybe. Except, at this juncture, knowing all that we know now, given all that we’ve seen, what would that have accomplished? The Fords brooked no opposition, sought no compromise with anyone who disagreed with them or called them on their bullshit.

It seldom pays to concede to bullies and thugs. Next to incompetence, what the Fords did best was to play the thug card. Councillor Vaughan stood up to that, many times encouraged it, bringing it out into the open for everyone to see.clownthug

During one particularly heated debate, I forget exactly which one of the too many to commit to memory, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti leaning back in his chair and yapping down the aisle at Vaughan. I used to beat up guys like you in high school. Yes, we’re sure you did, Giorgio. We’re sure you did.

Over the past 3 years or so, I was fortunate enough to have some conversations with the councillor outside of the political arena, beyond the political melodrama, to talk about building a city. He knew his shit, and his enthusiasm for transforming streets, neighbourhoods and communities was infectious. It challenged me to try and better understand the nature of what makes cities successfully tick.

I imagine when Councillor Vaughan gets asked what he sees as his biggest accomplishment from his time at City Hall, he will point to the redevelopment of Alexandra Park that is just getting under way. Both in private and publicly, I heard him boast about the process and how it hinged on the input from the residents of the community. This was not going to be his redevelopment or the city’s, but theirs, those who lived there.

manoflamanchaWhich makes his jump to federal politics all the more puzzling.

I get the impetus. Any city councillor worth their salt is going to feel the limitations of municipal governance. There isn’t access to all the necessary tools, especially the fiscal ones, to get the job done on major issues like transit, child care and housing. t must be head-bangingly frustrating to care about these items and know there’s only so much you can do, to battle with colleagues who view such shortcomings as a way not to deal with them.

Councillor Vaughan says he wants to go to Ottawa to finally deliver a national strategy on housing for cities. I truly wish him good luck with that but, frankly, these days, Ottawa is where good intentions and direct, hands on democracy go to die. Olivia Chow, whose vacant federal seat Vaughan is seeking to fill, became an MP with similar purpose in mind, and Jack Layton before her. It’s been some time since the federal government paid much attention to the needs of this country’s cities. Maybe Adam Vaughan can turn that around. I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

I’m guessing the past four years have been a study in frustration for Vaughan. Time spent mostly trying to push against the reactionary, roll back impulses of the Fords and their ilk. He’s done his hitch. robfordbellicoseWhile I’d hoped he’d be around to help pick up the broken pieces of what gets left behind after this messy weather passes through town, he won’t. It’s going to be a pretty big hole that needs to be filled.

When this term is up, Adam Vaughan will have served at City Hall for nearly 8 years. Rob Ford’s time in office there? 14 years. If you are ever trying to figure out why Toronto faces the problems it does, engages in the kind of politics it does, that’s as a good a place to start as any. Fixing that sort of discrepancy will go a long way to sorting our problems out.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr