Posted by Joanna Smith, Ottawa Bureau
Late Monday night I received an email from Joe Cressy, who is the media spokesman for NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre).
The subject line: "Joanna - you'll want to be at this announcement".
That caught my attention (even while knowing it is the job of a media relations person to tell me that I want to be at every announcement, no matter how big or small I as a journalist might think it is), but I asked for more details before deciding whether to make a note in my calendar.
The announcement on Friday has two parts:
1. Paul will announce what we believe is the biggest endorsement of any of the leadership campaigns yet.
2. Paul will articulate the theme and next phase of his leadership campaign
A couple of colleagues in the Ottawa Bureau and I began brainstorming. Who could be a bigger endorsement than Ed Broadbent, who had already come out in support of Brian Topp? We started trying to think of someone of that stature.
One idea that came to mind was NDP MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina), who was married to the late Jack Layton and would provide symbolic weight to any campaign. She had already said that she was going to remain neutral in the leadership race, but people have changed their minds before. Cressy knows her well and co-chaired her campaign last year, so it was within the realm of possibility. I called her up and asked and the answer was a clear no. She wasn't even aware that Dewar was holding an event Friday and she still plans to remain neutral. Scratched her name off the list.
Another name that came up was former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, whose work to help people affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa would fit well with Dewar's passion for international and humanitarian affairs. Cressy is director of communications at the Stephen Lewis Foundation, so there is a connection, and Lewis would be at the level of Broadbent when it comes to "big" names in the NDP world.
So I came right out and asked Cressy.
"...(It's) not Stephen. It's also not Batman or Obama as I've read on twitter.
The endorser is someone who the grassroots of our Party (Paul's whole campaign focus) like a great deal."
That ruled out Lewis, but the "grassroots" mention was another clue. We needed to think of someone outside the NDP "establishment" but still popular with members.
I tried another couple of names. David Suzuki? Maher Arar?
"Neither...but that's the end of our guesses.
Though when you said Arar, I can't help but note that Monia Mazigh (Maher Arar's wife and a leading activist) has already endorsed Paul."
True. She has.
So, still scratching my head (Naomi Klein? Elizabeth May?) I trudged through the slush and snow/rain to the Westin Hotel in downtown Ottawa (where Liberals were milling about the hallways for their policy convention) by 8:15 a.m. to cover this big, surprise announcement.
And who was it?
NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins--James Bay), who Dewar said will also be his deputy leader if he wins the leadership race.
Now, don't get me wrong. Angus, as far as caucus endorsements go, is a catch. It is true that he is liked by grassroots members of the NDP and his deft handling of the G8 infrastructure spending issue and the housing crisis in Attawapiskat made him one of the stars in the House of Commons last year. His past life as a punk rock musician makes him an interesting character and he helped his party make gains in Northern Ontario. He's a good addition to the Dewar campaign team.
But "the biggest endorsement of any of the leadership campaigns yet"? That's debatable.
What is more certain is that this was a pretty smart way to get the national media (and there were quite a few of us there) to show up for a campaign announcement early on a Friday morning. And even if it's likely not what Cressy had in mind when he sent me that first email, here I am still writing about it.
Cressy noticed this blog post, of course, and gave me a call to explain the thinking behind all the hype.
"Our true belief that Charlie is... in the context of a leadership race, he is certainly one of the biggest 'gets' that anybody will be able to get the whole campaign. Remember: leadership races are one member, one vote. And Charlie, within our party, he is somebody who many people were hoping was going to run for leader. If he was running, he would be a frontrunner right now, but he also brings lots of support with him. Lots of memberships, lots of folks, big and small names," said Cressy, going on to say that he realized the speculation had run more rampant than he had expected.
"So, I know it wasn't what people were expecting. The minute the Twittersphere went a little nuts, it was like 'Uh, Tim Tebow? Do we have him?' But it was an honest calculation of ours that he is one of the biggest MPs and certainly the biggest that we have," Cressy said.