What's the return policy on mayoral candidates?
If we don't like any of our options, can we "return" our mayoral candidates? You know, post them back on the shelf in whatever backroom they came from and find another option?
Don't get me wrong, our candidates are decent people, but I'm looking for something a bit better than "decent". After all, a "decent" mayor can't help Toronto forge into the future, can they?
A few nights ago, I was speaking to a friend about my recent travels to New Orleans and New York City. Like most conversations with 20-somethings who travel abroad ready to become consumed by a life that is similar but starkly different from their own, the conversation found its way to that inevitable path- Toronto vs. *insert cosmopolitan city here*
No, Richmond St. isn’t Bourbon Street and High Park will never be Central Park, but what about the cultures? The people? The spirit of the city?
Make no mistake that New Orleans and New York City are possessed by the spirit of innovation, creativity and resilience. After all, New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and New York is the birthplace of hip hop. Both genres of music were created out of very oppressive, classist and even racist realities that forced people to turn lemons into lemonade.
Toronto lives in a 21st-century reality where we have, as my friend put it, “an embarrassment of riches”. Decent housing, decent social safety net, decent culture and entertainment. What more do we need? As a city, we have the means to maintain a decent standard of life.
And herein lies our problem.
We are too satisfied with “decent”. We’ve been afforded the luxuries of the first-world modern economy: free public education, health care and a city that would never tolerate the kind of discrimination that was once tolerated our (yes, I’m implicating Canada in this) country's history. My goodness, we can even protest and demand inquiries into the misuse and abuse of power without a death threat or public execution in sight.
Sarah Thompson can hop on the political bandwagon under the tattered banner of second wave feminism because she has a decent business track record. George Smitherman can walk away from a provincial fiscal fiasco and run for mayor with decent chance of winning because he’s a warm, engaging and decent guy (nice to speak to too). Rocco Rossi is a decent fundraiser and influencer, which appears to be all that you need to run a decent city like Toronto. Rob Ford has spent a fair number of years on city council and is the only candidate who can speak to the the inner-workings of the city most intimately, which, combined with his ability to reach the common (wo)man makes him a decent alternative. And Joe Pantalone... well he’s just a decent guy, but that’s about it as far as the mayoral race is concerned.
So with all of this decency, what are we left with with? Forgive me for saying this, but this complacent satisfaction with decent has only resulted in a mediocre mayoral race. A few friends have said that I should hold my judgement until late fall, but dammit I'm tired of watching Smitherman kiss babies, Rossi lap it up at barbeques and Thompson's tweets about days at the cottage. It's a race for goodness sakes. RUN!
It didn’t take long for me to realize that both New York and New Orleans are cities that will not settle for mediocrity. Instead, people demand more. They fight. They create. They resist. They innovate. They push the city to its limits by challenging what was once considered decent rules, decent laws and decent regulations. The people did not settle.
For those of us who are less than satisfied with the selection of mayoral candidates, who do we blame for the lack of selection? Big business? Educational institutions? Ourselves? By living, working and playing in this city, we shape the legacy of this city for the future. If our legacy is one of mediocrity, then expect mediocre leadership.
Next election, we should get candidates to complete a "Are you decent?" questionnaire. Those who score as "highly decent" will be returned. And by returned I mean that they will be immediately thanked for their time and encouraged to stick to their day jobs.
However, those who make it past the questionnaire will be invited to a three-day political ironman/ironwoman challenge created by the people of Toronto. It would include all kinds of challenges like the budget challenge ("find $100M in 48 hours"), a safety perception challenge ("to fund or not to fund: increase police budget or increase grants to communities?"). We could even have a popularity contest on Twitter (how many new followers can you get in one day?). That would certainly push our candidates out of the prosaic box of mediocrity, wouldn't it?
Yes, the ideas are wild, ridiculous even. But we need something to ensure that we don't ever have a mayoral race that leaves me and my well educated peers more inclined to follow Kevin Clarke Twitter feeds than get civically engaged.