I know this post won't be popular with most of my peers in the political world, or with the media in Toronto, but the sad fact is that if 2014 continues in the same direction it has started, Rob Ford will almost certainly win again.
I have been involved in politics most of my adult life, most of it as a volunteer and then in later years as a campaign manager, advisor, strategist. Most of my career has been in the municipal election world, across Canada, in numerous provinces and ridings and, although I have experienced many different cultures and styles, Toronto is unique.
I have remained an observer over the years in Toronto politics, preferring to operate in the 905 belt and other smaller centres in Ontario. But, in 2010, I had three City Councillor clients, six School Board Trustees and two Catholic School board trustees as clients and won all but one of those campaigns.
Although I was approached by a number of potential candidates, it is likely I will continue to remain an observer during Toronto Mayoral campaign 2014. My main observation has been that there is too close a relationship in Toronto between the media and political candidates. Media tries to control and influence the political process to an extent that I have never seen anywhere else in Canada. In 2010, there were members of the radio media openly taking credit for the Ford win. In 2014, the lines have blurred even more, having a candidate's advisor "interview" a candidate on a major TV network with a very thin veneer of journalistic integrity. The irony of me turning to this media to make my observations is not lost on me.
The problem with the way Toronto politics works is that in 2010, a new phenomenon emerged: Ford Nation. The more the media "attacked" Ford with legitimate news about his past and present personal behaviour, the more his supporters dug in. Polls actually showed him increasing after each negative piece of media. Although his support waned for a brief period in 2013 and early 2014 amidst revelations that he smoked crack cocaine and other embarrassing personal videos, his support has now increased again to the point that he is poised to get re-elected as Mayor.
To the average reader of this post, likely a politically savvy individual, this seems like a ridiculous possible outcome but I am not the least bit surprised. People have become cynical of the media, especially Toronto media, and the other wannabe leading campaigns (Chow, Tory) who rely almost exclusively on media contacts and connections to spread negatives about each other, are playing right in to Ford's hands. These same people and group used these tactics against Ford in 2010.
The "I am not Rob Ford" campaign, will not work, there are at least five of those going on right now. Some are well-funded, others less so, but all that money is going to waste. What this race needs is a candidate who doesn't talk about being "not Rob Ford," a candidate that is real and not afraid to talk about themselves and ignore the media driven urge to comment on the antics of a 45-year-old teenager. Chow and Tory are both great candidates with good profile, but they have a very small chance of succeeding against Ford, their teams are telling them to comment openly on the "Ford Circus," because the Toronto elites, cannot understand why or how Ford beat them, it's 2010 all over again.
I would look to one of the dark horse candidates to emerge as the true contender to Ford in the months ahead. If Stintz, Soknacki or Thomson can define themselves as anything more than "not Rob Ford," they have a chance to break through the media noise and truly challenge Ford where it matters, with the people of Toronto. The Toronto media need to understand this new reality and begin acting with integrity, reporting on the campaign with an eye towards ideas and solutions instead of preconceived notions of who should be in contention. If the campaigns, including the media attempting to manipulate it, continue as they have started 2014, we will wake up on October 28 and ask ourselves again how Rob Ford won.
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