‘Un-incumbents’ outlines challenges of running for office in Toronto — Sitting councillors benefit from name recognition, challengers say
By Mike Adler, InsideToronto
Underdogs and also-rans take heart: more change than usual is coming to city council, a gathering of non-incumbent candidates heard Monday, Sept. 13.
It’s normally “near impossible” to defeat a city councillor, and some can be with us for decades, but on Oct. 25 nine of 44 council seats have no incumbent running, said Himy Syed, a mayoral candidate who called council challengers to a Bloor Street church to help shorten their odds of winning.
In the front row was Daniel Murton, running to unseat Pam McConnell in Ward 28. Beside him was his mother, Connie Harrison, who ran against McConnell in 2006.
The best bet to win the Toronto Centre-Rosedale ward is still McConnell, who like other incumbents has the name recognition Murton lacks. Four other candidates could also split votes against the incumbent, ensuring her victory.
But Murton soldiers on, hoping voters will respect his business success as a manager at Staples while he tries to rouse parts of the ward he thinks McConnell ignored. “She’s been in there for 16 years and I don’t think she’s changed much,” he said.
There are similar stories across the city, and Syed, who has run for a council seat himself, invited “un-incumbents” to tell them at a podium draped in a city flag.
Besides running in Ward 22 (St. Paul’s), which the retiring Michael Walker has left open, Molls is gathering names on a petition to lower the city’s voting age to 16.
But though willing to do that, she said she would not have put her life on hold to run against the ward’s longtime councillor Kyle Rae, if Rae was running again.
Sharad Sharma, one of six running in Suzan Hall’s Ward 1 (Etobicoke North), said the area is one of Toronto’s poorest and voter turnout is low.
He also must educate residents, most of whom select candidates “by the colour of your lawn sign” that there are no political parties at city hall and business experience should count for more, he said.
Though what he billed as the largest single gathering of non-incumbents before election day turned out small, with just 10 of 200 invited challengers showing up, Syed said the goal of all such candidates should be raising turnout to 50 per cent in all wards, up from “abysmal” 2006 levels averaging 39 per cent city-wide.
Syed suggested posting campaign photos on flickr – which is free and “will get you more google juice” because it shows up on the search engine – as well as participating in a new portal page torontowiki.org/tovotes, and another site, pledgetovote.ca that is focused on council races but does not invite incumbents.
“They get enough publicity as it is,” he explained.
Murton, meanwhile, said he’s all for using social media (it “makes your ego feel great,” he said), but he knows canvassing actually works.
Municipal politics is “hard and heartbreaking” and it seems like we’re moving in “geological time,” said Harrison, adding she hasn’t seen a good mayor since David Crombie.
A Toronto Community Housing tenant living with a bedbug infestation in 2006, she said she ran for office after being told she had no right to cool air in her building.
“I cried, then I submitted papers,” said Harrison who didn’t defeat McConnell but through her candidacy let people know what it’s like to live in community housing, so “I consider myself a big winner.”
As for her son, “he’ll be the first one to be kicked” if he wins but then gets too comfortable in the job, Harrison pledged.