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Ward 9 profile: Augimeri and Cusimano renew hostilities

10/16/2014 07:35 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST
Two candidates vying for a city councillor position in Ward 9 have been feuding for years. But, most recently, Gus Cusimano and incumbent Maria Augimeri are arguing over three big billboards that Cusimanoerected.

A quick drive through Ward 9 along Wilson Avenue between Dufferin and Keele and it's hard not to spot challenger Cusimano's signs.

In a three-block radius, there are three big billboards. Each with his picture and a phone number. But unlike the campaign signs that dot the streetscape, these signs are for his business, Deereborne Insurance.

His rival, Augimeri, a frequent critic of the mayor, and TTC chair, says those signs and others along the route from the Downsview Residents Group, are a not-so-subltle way of skirting campaign spending rules.

"If you don't have respect for the law, imagine if you were elected, what you'd be doing? Do you trust this guy? I don't think so," says Augimeri.

The campaign spending limit for Ward 9 is $28,346. Billboards of a similar size cost around $3,000 for four weeks. 

Cusimano disagrees with Augimeri's portrayal of the signs saying they are just one way he advertises his business.

"I'm in business many years. That's just a different, another [way] of advertising. No one's going to tell me how to run my business at all," he says.

Battles date back to 2010

The skirmish over signs is the latest in an ongoing battle between the two political rivals. Augimeri beat Cusimano by 89 votes in 2010. Cusimano challenged the result in court and won, but Augimeri won on appeal.

In 2013, it was discovered Cusimano voted in Ward 9 even though he wasn't a resident. He said he thought he could vote there because he leased property in the ward. Cusimano pleaded guilty to breaking the Municipal Elections Act.

The bad blood continued earlier this year. Augimeri referred to Cusimano as "criminale" in a Corriere Canadese, a local Italian-language newspaper. While Cusimano had pleaded guilty the year before, he has no criminal record.

After a complaint to the integrity commissioner, Augimeri was forced to apologize. 

Downsview Park claims questioned

A prominent feature of Ward 9 is Downsview Park and it's becoming a central figure in this campaign.

Candidate Anthony Fernando says Augimeri is making false claims about the park's future. He says she's fear-mongering by telling voters that the federal government plans on selling the park. He says parts are being sold to developers, but the key is where it's happening.

"We're not losing Downsview Park. We're getting some development in the former base housing site. But the park we all enjoy will be there forever", Fernando says.

Augimeri calls it an "obscene gesture" on the part of the federal government to sell off parts of the park, pointing to a condo sales site on Keele Street south of Sheppard Avenue West as an example. She calls it the ward's biggest issue.

"The people of Downsview cannot sustain another 40,000 people on our land. We don't have the sewer system, we don't have the water pressure capacity, we don't have the road infrastructure for it," she says.

Fernando, though, has written to the city planner who responded saying there are limits on what can be built on the land and any future development would have to be run by the city.

He also received a letter from Federal Minister of Public Works Diane Finley who says parkland will not be sold.

The right-leaning Cusimano, a supporter of Rob Ford, says Augimeri is making an issue out of nothing.

"Maria Augimeri has been there since day one. She's known what's been going on there and I think what we need is somebody there that's going to negotiate the best deal for the community."

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