The highly controversial and often coveted role of City Councillor comes with it's fair share of ups and downs. What's often ignored is the road many take to get there. I'd like to share some of my experiences as a candidate as its important in a city that's in such desperate need of change.
For context, the ward I'm running in, Ward 17 Davenport, has had its fair share of poor leadership over the past 11 years. I'm currently running against a three term incumbent and a candidate who has run twice before. Because my campaign understood that the majority of the battle would be to not only run a strong campaign, but also to establish solid name recognition, a dedicated group of volunteers and I declared my candidacy on January 2nd of this year.
After canvassing the entire ward early on, the underdog campaign, namely us according to the polls and residents, managed to garner an incredible amount of support from the majority of ethnic groups, businesses, residents' associations and volunteer communities. This was because a determined group of volunteers were able to push forward a non-partisan plan to change our community and city for the better. If our campaign were to receive fair coverage I'm confident that due to it's strength and community support we would have been easily painted as the clear and obvious alternative to the current reign.
Thus, some of the myths that have been written by reporters, columnists and journalists about our campaign are in need of debunking. I take them head-on here.
He's the 'rookie'. If having worked at all three levels of government, having been involved in City Hall affairs and issues since the past decade, starting a small business, having advised Chief Blair and the White House on community safety is considered being a 'rookie' then yes, I am a rookie. It would, however, be an oddly defined sense of the word.
He's doing this to get his name out there. While this is a common assumption and truth about many first-time candidates, journalists should do their due diligence before assuming that all first time candidates are doing it for a joyride. Because this ward is my home, I needed to put all on the line. I resigned from a great opportunity with CivicAction as the Campaign Manager for the Your 32 campaign to pursue this run for office full time for 10 months without an income. If I wanted to "get my name out there" there would have been other, far easier options. I needed to put my money where my mouth is and 'be' the actual change rather than just preach it.
He doesn't have a chance of winning. Considering that it's always tough to take out an incumbent, talk about 'strategic voting' and vote splitting is rampant. It's easy to talk about vote splitting, and difficult to talk about getting out the vote. The reality in a ward with low voter turnout is that if a candidate runs a strong candidate where he or she's able to get out new voters, there doesn't have to be a zero-sum tussle for any particular voter group. Our volunteers were able to mobilize an entirely new cohort of voters who weren't intending on voting in the first place.
Knowing this, to ask a candidate to withdraw from a race to make it easier for another better known candidate to win is undemocratic, unnecessary, and a slap in the face to a resident's right to choose which happens at the local to the mayoral level. It doesn't have to be that way in Davenport, where we can mobilize new voters. Talking-head pundit 'bloggers' who promote strategic voting in our ward only understand politics at a surface level--not the reality on the ground. They're out of touch.
He's not the obvious choice. When we're on the canvass trail, it's clear that people want change. Over 90 per cent of my experiences at the door have been positive. There is clearly no obvious choice in this particular election but what I will work to do is to do the best I can without using other candidates as excuses for any shortcomings that our campaign might face.
The media is where we can learn about new, innovative candidates. After sending out multiple press releases, media advisories and story pitches to reporters from a wide variety of sources with compelling story ideas, the most we got was a thank you. The least we got were no responses, despite the fact that these reporters were claiming to cover first-time candidates in other wards. We're not just talking about a few emails, we're talking about over 50-100 press releases and advisories. A case in point would be by my communications team's repeated attempts to reach out to an urban experience writer with the Toronto Star
who ignored my first batch of emails but then replied after a blunt message with how many jobs he has and that because he is a freelancer he can't respond to every email. All I was requesting was a courtesy response to my original inquiry to which I never received. He could have used that message to either say yes or no to my invitation which would have saved him some time.
The same reporter then went on to interview one of my opponents a few weeks later giving her a full in-depth interview despite me reaching out and inviting him for a walk first, providing no response to me other than what was written above.
In 2006, the "third" candidate who was in my position did in fact get a Star profile despite having a smaller campaign and less name recognition, an equal chance was given.
A similar occurrence with a local paper designed to give local candidates a full and equal voice, the reporter, who spent a good 45 minutes with me on the phone with me to only mention quotes that significantly disadvantaged my campaign and gave it the same amount of space as a candidate who is not even campaigning or knocking on doors. A few weeks later the ad department at Metroland called to ask if I'd be interested in advertising in the paper-- not the best sell.
Another freelancer for the Globe and Mail first sat down with me for an hour wanting to talk about what I would do if elected for the high needs areas in Davenport. After a great interview, it unfortunately never ended up getting published. Later, that same reporter showed up at an all candidates debate at a local high school. Instead of interviewing our campaign about my platform or major ideas (as she she seemed to do with the other campaign), she wanted to know if they "practiced dirty politics" and asked a series of leading questions designed to trigger an inflammatory response. The story did end up getting published with me getting a small paragraph at the end of the article versus the extensive coverage she gave to the other two candidates in the area.
Voters aren't getting the full picture.
The obsession with the rivalry between the two previous candidates in the area and fixation on spectacles at the Mayoral level is missing the entire point of having the ability to choose an alternative. At our local debates, residents spoke loud and clear when asked if they wanted another four years of the back and forth between the candidates, yelling a unanimous "no!" but many in the media have refused to cover the entire story. You can still sell newspapers and achieve higher ratings by not requiring candidates to don a clown suit in order to get appropriate attention.
But what recourse do candidates or others who've been slighted or snubbed by the media have?
My point is simply this: Many want change in Toronto politics, but unless we start changing the way that media covers local council races, the same style of candidates will continue to be elected, we can no longer be allergic to the potential of something better, unlikely or fear something different in such a diverse city.
Such coverage discourages good candidates from running in the first place. Of course the media can't cover every candidate, but in our case where there are 3 active candidates, it's interesting that the snub was in our direction despite declaring and campaigning in January. The media needs to start doing its due diligence by spending more time researching the campaigns in the local races if we're to get an accurate picture of who to vote for.
In the meantime our campaign which is breaking new ground will continue to work hard for our community and our city, but some things just have to be said.
A previous version of this blog stated the names of each journalist. They have been removed for privacy reasons.
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