Readers of this blob (Hi, mom!) will know that we do not take fright easily. Not even the Harris era pitbull Guy Giorno [where are they now dept. –ed.] was able to sway us from our unappointed rounds.
But recent events have us contemplating barring our windows and bolting our doors, if not our lunch.
We refer, of course, to Monday Night at Shaw Street, where we overheard a conversation between Spacing Wire’s election blogger John Lorinc, Eye magazine’s Dale Duncan, Eye’s Ed Keenen, and the two front-runners in the mayoral election, Jane “inane” Pitfield and David “thriller” Miller.
Yes, Misha Glouberman was there too, but really, not part of the conversation at all. We envied him. We coveted his wireless microphone, if not his necktie.
In fact, Keenen’s and Glouberman’s neckties were carrying on their own side-chatter (but who are we to criticize fashion trends?).
The occasion was a sort of mayoral debate, but without the distraction of the contenders appearing on stage together. The hall was stacked along one side with hard liquor bottles, and along the other with Jane Pitfield supporters in yellowing ballcaps and severe suits, wearing scowls.
Moments of entertainment were to be had: surely a highlight was Jane Pitfield, who confused a bicycle bell with the recording of a subway chime that was used to signal the end of her alotted speaking time. We imagine neither sound is especially familiar to her, but we are willing to cut her slack for nervousness. The fact is, cyclists were in the room in some number, and a campaign had been spawned by partisans of the Tooker Gomberg Memorial Bikelane project to encourage the ringing of bicycle bells whenever a “green” or pro-cycling position was aluded to.
The bells were therefore relatively passive during Pitfield’s portion of the event although we heard a ringing in our ears during her discourse on “negative-option tree-plantings” on front yards in Leaside.
They were especially quiet during her discourse on the safety of waste incineration, although someone quite near us was heard to yell “incinerate yer ballots!”
Not a position we at the ALLDERBLOB are prepared to support.
We were interested, however, when Pitfield spoke of the “144 distinct neighbourhoods” in the city of Toronto, and the importance of preserving their distinct identities and characteristics. Perhaps this explains why the Wal-Mart Power Centre that recently opened in her ward is decorated in pastel hues of mauve and fuscha stucco, with a de Chirico-inspired arcade and a parking lot for a thousand cars. In response to a heckler at this point Pitfield did indeed confirm that for her, “more cars in the suburbs” is a way of preserving that part of Toronto’s “distinctness.”
Eventually David Miller appeared, his beard glistening with sweat under the hot lights, his jowls looking particularly heavy. We note that for him Pecan Pie is a “guilty pleasure,” and we suggest he try cycling or other active transportation, whether for exercise or as a way to commune with the family. Perhaps when he has more time, after the 13th November.
Miller was not let off easily by the feisty Spacing/Eye team. While it is true that the crowd was in Miller’s clammy little hand, the panel demonstrated nothing but professional distance, nothing but objective nonpartisan frankness. No stone was left unturned [you’re turning my stomach though. get to the point, please. –ed.].
It was Ed Keenen who delivered the knockout punch to Mayor Miller (as reported in the Toronto Rats and Car Advertiser today):
[Keenen] said Miller told [eye] magazine three years ago cycling would be a high priority. Yet only 26 kilometres of bike paths have been built since he was elected three years ago; woefully short of the planned 1,000 kilometres.
“That’s half as much as under (former Mayor) Mel Lastman,” Miller was told.
“I’ve been campaigning since May and nobody had compared anything I’ve done to my predecessor,” the mayor replied.
Miller said the city has added about $1 million a year for biking. But he said it didn’t work, partly because some councillors fight to keep bike lanes off streets in their ward despite the fact they increase safety for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.
Miller said the city has tried a piecemeal plan but that it’s “time to be more aggressive” and that cyclists have to push harder in neighbourhoods that resist bike lanes.
Not reported in the newspaper was the follow-up question: who are the councillors who are to blame for holding up the bikeplan?
Miller was frank, and he was specific. No mincing words here. “Case Ootes,” he replied.
A hush fell. No bicycle bells sounded. It is likely some of the older women and possibly the gentlemen too, near the bar, fainted dead away. At any rate we were aware of two or three thudding noises from that side of the room. But otherwise, a hush: only the breathless murmer: “A-B-C” could be heard, we like to think. But perhaps it was just the rustle of of a dry, balding scalp as the Jane Pitfield supporter standing near us twisted his yellow ball cap on his head.
No, we are sure we heard it: “A-B-C,” a whisper that ran like a shiver up the spine of the crowd.
If Miller heard it too, he did not let on its meaning: “Anyone But Case,” the ward 29 rallying cry of late. Miller did not say out loud the thoughts in the hearts of right-thinking ward 29 denizens: “D-VO,” or “Don’t Vote Ootes.”
No, Miller went right on talking, right up to the sound of the subway chime.
He is one politician who knows the sound of a subway chime.
But we wondered, as the evening wore on, what is up with Miller and Ootes? We listened hard for the mayor’s take on other councillors who have similarly disappointed or confused him, but we heard nothing. In fact, in over an hour of talk, the mayor mentioned just one councillor. That was the esteemed Odious. He didn’t even mention by name his opponent, the councillor from Leaside.
Miller must really have a thing for “the embarrassment from ward 29.”
So it was with interest that we approached the mayor at the event’s end. He had stepped from the stage and was surrounded by eager reporters and bloggers with cameras and notepads held afore them. Close by the mayor were his handlers, Don Wanagas and Chris Phibbs. We hovered at the edge of this adoring clutch. It became apparent that we would not be able to get anywhere near his Warship on this occasion, and we put the question the best available alternative, Ms. Phibbs.
As an aside [please! –ed.] we must speak of our previous encounters with Chris Phibbs. In fact, we know her as the also-ran contender in the ward 30 councillor race of 2003. In that race, which our current councillor, Paula Fletcher finaly won (as a strong supporter of David Miller’s), Chris Phibbs fought a ruthless, nay, a dirty fight. The darkest moment, surely, was when, on the eve of the election she distributed flyers throughout the ward that quoted the Global Male and Car Advertiser’s columniast John Barber. Barber had inexplicably cast his hooded gaze eastward, past the Don River, onto the Danforth Peninsula, and espied the ward 30 battle. His contribution, five days before the election, was to note that Paula Fletcher had a sordid past: she was at one time the leader of the Manitoba Communist Party. From this fact, like any true-blooded amerikan would, Barber foretold dark days ahead for ward 30, and advocated a vote for Phibbs. Needless to say, the strategy backfired. If anything, support for Fletcher surged: most of ward 30 residents, after all, are fellow-travellers.
But Phibbs landed on her feet, and here she is, in the thick of the Miller war room.
On this night we asked Phibbs if, since Miller was so concerned about Case Ootes, he would be “pulling out the stops” (yes it’s true, we used this very phrase) in support of Ootes’s main opposition, Diane Alexopoulos.
And here is the beginning of the scary part.
For here is the grist of Mayor Miller’s dirty little secret.
Ms Phibbs looked us in the eye. She is a rather tall woman, with close-cropped hair and a swimmer’s build. You can see how John Barber would have fallen for her.
“Jake,” she said, “the answer is no. It’s not worth it.”
Our mouth fell open. Our eyes bugged out. It wasn’t just that Phibbs knew us by name, which is indeed a mystery.
But to say it’s “Not worth it” to campaign against the only councillor who gets under Miller’s skin enough to merit mention in the debate? We reached past Phibbs and tugged the tweed-covered shoulder of Don Wanagas. “Say it ain’t so, Don,” we pleaded. “Say Miller’s going to get out to ward 29 and do battle together with Alexopoulos.”
Wanagas is gruff. His coat is rough. His stance was tough. He huffed: “In fact, Miller was out there today, canvassing.”
But the damage was done. We went home and ordered window bars. And we pondered the meaning of this lack of enthusiasm on Miller’s part.
Because it’s not just Phibbs, and by extension Miller, who says the battle in ward 29 is a foregone conclusion. The most recent issue of Toronto Life magazine [note to our international readers: Toronto Life is like The New Yorker, except it’s about Toronto, and has fewer Canadian writers. –ed.] presented the case in similar language, in an article about Adam Vaughan’s campaign for councillor in ward 20. That’s the ward vacated by NDP powerhouse, Member of Parliament and wife of NDP leader Jack Layton, Olivia Chow. There, Vaughan has incurred the NDP’s wrath because he’s insisted on running against Chow’s chosen successor, the uninspiring Helen Kennedy. If only Helen Kennedy could boast a dark past as leader of some distant province’s communist party: but alas, she doesn’t. So in the Toronto Life story we read how Layton tried to convince Vaughan to take on Ootes instead, in which case the NDP would back him with all its might. The quote in question is:
His candidacy has been a thorn in the side of both Mayor David Miller and the local NDP machine. In their eyes, Trinity-Spadina is reserved for Olivia Chow’s former assistant, Helen Kennedy. Last winter, federal NDP leader Jack Layton offered him the party’s support and his personal endorsement—provided Vaughan ran in East York against nine-year incumbent Case Ootes. If he refused, Vaughan claims, Layton said the NDP would “bury” him. (Layton doesn’t recall using the word “bury.”)
Lose with me as your enemy, or lose with me as your friend. It was an offer he had to refuse.
Miller’s secret is out, and it’s a scary one. The man slings blame like the Allderblob vitriol. He’d rather have Case Ootes on hand, we think, in order to have someone to blame when the city’s bicycle infrastructure projects fall short the years to come.
Bar your windows, folks.