Somehow, I’ve ended up relating to two groups I never expected I would: strategic swing-voters and American Republicans. What a weird election.
In every past one I can recall, I knew who I was supporting early on. As a New Democrat, I’m used to my candidates losing, but you should always vote for the person you believe in. Voting strategically, holding your nose and casting your ballot for the perceived ‘lesser of two evils’, often doesn’t work and results in political leaders no one actually likes.
But this election the stakes seemed much higher to stop Rob Ford. Not since Hillary vs. Obama had my parents been divided, with my Mom supporting lefty Joe Pantalone and my father arguing that only George Smitherman could save Toronto from the embarrassment of a Ford mayoralty. Unlike at the provincial or federal levels, when there’s multiple viable candidates and parties can build on past successes, mayoral races are one-time shots, and my Dad worried that a Ford victory would send the alarming message that even in Toronto rightwing candidates can win by mindlessly chanting “lower taxes” over and over again.
I was leaning towards Pantalone as the torchbearer for David Miller’s Toronto (and no, Miller’s tenure wasn’t the complete disaster the papers think it was) but also because I resented that Smitherman squandered his early lead by not representing anything, by not articulating why he wanted to be mayor and that his campaign ultimately boiled down to ‘Anyone but Ford’.
In the last day I realized that I was doing what I didn’t want to do, voting against somebody rather than for.
Still, polls were tightening and I always liked Pantalone when I read about him or saw his cute diminutive frame on TV.
I honestly didn’t know who I was going to vote for until I was standing in my old high school’s gym, looking down at all the names. I waffled back and forth before drawing the black line with the sharpie.
My candidate didn’t win, but I’m comfortable with my choice.
It was ridiculous how quickly ‘CP24’ called the election for Ford. Eight minutes past 8.00pm, when the polls closed. They cut straight to his family home in Etobicoke, where the already red-faced Ford turned even redder and distractedly answered questions as his family jumped around him. Watching his large, blonde brothers (even his nieces looked a bit like him) I started to feel that here was a different side of Toronto not usually represented in downtown politics.
I felt the same way watching his rambling victory speech, when the rag tag group who surrounded him on stage appeared intent on distracting attention; a baby in the back wailed; a weird dude, before being instructed to step off by security, placed a Hawaiian lei around Ford’s neck, which he wore for the remainder of the speech; and a man in a black leather cowboy hat, perhaps a brother, tried to give him a shoulder massage before being scolded by the formidable Mama Ford herself.
Because it’s 2010, and old media feels the need to shamelessly suck up to new media, election-themed twitter tweets scrolled the bottom of screen, which, while divided in their allegiance, were unified in their breathlessness. (Ironically, by #ing ‘CP24’ twitterers were sucking up to the old media which so wants to be like twitter in order to be on TV. Some tweets even ended with “Can’t believe Ford won! Say goodbye to Transit City! Hi Lindsay!” making it clear that twitterers are the new people standing outside City TV or ‘Good Morning America’ waving ‘Hi Mom!’ signs.)
There was a certain naiveté about the pro-Ford tweets, a grandiosity mixed with dangerously vague generalizations. Much about how Torontoians had “voted for change”, had “demanded respect” and “taken back their city”. Ford had tapped into a real sentiment and received a mandate (at the end of the day, even if you added all the Pantalone votes onto Smitherman’s, ‘Furious George’ would’ve only barely won), but what exactly this revolution is about, other than “lower taxes” and “stopping the gravy train”, is pretty unclear.
Generalities work in an election campaign, but not so much in governing. And when you combine them with an enthusiastic voter base, many of whom never voted before, and a hostile, often-dysfunctional council, you’re looking at the potential to disappoint a lot of people, and fast.
Which is what Obama learned in the two years since his unifying calls for “hope” and “change” swept him to power but left Democrats divided on what to do.
Like Republicans watching Obama’s victory speech in Chicago that historic night, I watched the Ford celebration unable to ignore the excitement of his passionate supporters but with the sinking feeling of not knowing what comes next.
My predictions: with all eyes on him now, Mayor-elect Ford will not be as focused as Candidate Ford and will have a stumbling transition, quickly angering activist groups (womens’, queer and immigrant ones, my guess) and unions, and will see a major strike within a year. If Ford is held accountable for it (as Miller was for the garbage strike) or rather seen as the tough-talking defender of voters’ tax money will depend on the media, the public mood and how Torontoians respond viscerally to the new mayor.
All is not lost. Although some new right-wingers were elected, the basic diversity of city council stayed the same, and Ford will have to work with centrist and leftwing councillors (and, hopefully, moderate his positions) in order to get anything done. All the columnists agree that he won’t actually be able to get rid of streetcars, which (perhaps oddly) became one of my biggest fears. If he doesn’t “keep his promises”, as viewed by his core supporters, he has a tough re-election in four years.
And lastly, sometimes you need an ‘enemy’ to galvanize people, to shake them out of their complacent slumbers and fight for what they believe in. Feminists, LBGTQ-activists, immigrant advocates, environmentalists and even cyclists (especially cyclists!) should start mobilizing now, today, and get ready to cause a fuss as soon as Ford missteps or misspeaks. Our goal should be to create a progressive flipside of the American ‘Tea Party Movement’ (the Herbal Tea Party, anyone?), who, although much less influential than Fox News would have us believe, succeed in having their displeasure at ‘Obama-nation’ heard.
Congratulations, Rob Ford. As my parents, veterans of the dramatic ups and downs of politics, said last night, “It’s all downhill from victory night.”