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Don’t call it demockery

Wednesday 15 September 2010 No Comment

By Josh Hume, NOW Magazine

An incumbent councillor is harder to get rid of than a pool shark hogging a pub’s lone billiard table, dispatching all comers before they have a chance to sink a single shot.

To make matters worse, any brave soul who goes up against a sitting councillor is labelled a fringe candidate, a political naïf or a straight-up loon.

Mayoral candidate Himy Syed, founder of TorontoWiki and a fierce presence on the web, hopes this election, in which nine councillors have chosen not to run again, will open the field to some newbies. And he’s betting underdogs in the other wards can make it a real race, too.

But how do candidates get the word out? On Monday, September 13, at Dovercourt Baptist Church, Syed hosted Guaranteed Change At City Hall and laid out his social media strategy. Sixteen candidates were invited to introduce themselves to the assembled media. For some, it’s a rare opportunity.

“Many of these are dark horses,” says Syed. “They’re working their tails off, they’re sincere, they’re not deluded and they’re not in it for themselves. They are not ‘fringe.’ They are organized, they have signs and literature.” It’s a variation on the old conundrum: you need experience to get a job, but how do you get experience without a job?

Syed’s project, TOVotes, aims to use social media as a platform for little-known candidates (not to be confused with #voteTO, which uses Twitter as a citizen tool for political engagement).

A primary goal, Syed says, is to use web tools to help achieve a 50-per-cent-plus voter turnout in all 44 wards. In 2006, only 39.3 per cent of Torontonians went to the polls.

He has set up a kind of bare-bones, Facebook-style page on which every candidate can post a profile and platform (pledgetovote.ca), as well as a Wiki page where users can aggregate the basic info on every council and trustee candidate in every ward (TorontoWiki.org/2010_Election_Wiki).

Etobicoke North council candidate Sharad Sharma, who attended the September 13 event, says many candidates “do not really have time, exposure and a platform other than door-to-door, flyers or lawn signs.”

Council candidate George Sawision, who is running to replace Joe Pantalone in Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina, declares Syed “ahead of the game now. He’s showing you what the future is.”

But this is the present, and Sawision hasn’t had an easy go of it. “The only chance non-incumbents have is going door to door.”

Even then, he says, he has trouble being perceived as a player. “It’s a Catch-22. If people don’t see your name in the media, you’re not serious.”

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