It was the crusade around winning a judicial probe of the MFP computer leasing scandal that earned Ward 13 politician David Miller a reputation outside the confines of City Hall. Public feedback convinced the 43-year-old councillor with a Harvard law degree that he actually has a chance of becoming the next mayor of Toronto.
"David Miller isn't yet a household name, but that's what election campaigns are for," the would-be chief magistrate declared before he officially registered yesterday (January 8) as a candidate for the job that Mel Lastman will announce next week he's had way more than enough of.
Miller wasn't supposed to be in the race with a November 10, 2003, finish line. And he certainly wasn't supposed to be throwing an exuberant campaign launch party at a waterfront club last night. Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall spent much of the past year trying to make it clear to the young councillor that's she and she alone would be carrying the centre-left banner to the civic election polls next fall.
But Miller wasn't convinced. And the near certainty that there'll be at least two centre-right candidates on the mayoral ballot made him even more optimistic about his chances with the voters.
"It changes the whole dynamic," Miller says of the potential free-for-all. He's in, Hall and former budget chief Tom Jakobek registered their candidacies January 2, and the cavalcade of right-wing mayoral wannabe sign-ups (John Nunziata, John Tory and/or Case Ootes ) is expected to begin soon after Lastman sings his swan song to a big chamber of commerce luncheon crowd in Scarborough on Tuesday afternoon (January 14).
Because of the less predictable dynamic, Miller thinks the candidates' political affiliations won't be the big deal with voters that so many political observers claim they'll be. "Municipal politics isn't party politics," says the guy with an NDP membership card in his wallet. "I have a broad coalition of people supporting me, people of different political stripes and backgrounds.'
Key among those backers are Tory financier Tom Kierans, veteran Conservative campaign strategist John Laschinger and Liberal communications specialist Pat Gossage. Kierans will be the man in charge of raising the $1 million plus needed to mount a credible challenge for the mayor's chair.
Miller argues, "I don't see the election being about left or right. I see it as being about the future."
Along with an improved public transit system, Toronto's waterfront is a big part of that future, he says. And shoreline revitalization is being threatened by council's recent approval of a bridge between Bathurst Quay and an expanded Toronto Island Airport. "We must stop the bridge," Miller insists. "It's the difference between daring to dream of something great and accepting mediocrity."
Leadership will also be critical to restoring the public's faith and trust in municipal government after the MFP fiasco. Politicians will be under increasing scrutiny as the so-called Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry continues into the spring and, quite possibly, summer.
"That inquiry is showing what really goes on at City Hall," Miller says of revelations that senior city staff, including former treasurer Wanda Liczyk and ex-information technology director Jim Andrew, were lavishly wined and dined by MFP salesman Dash Domi. Domi was on the hunt for a huge computer contract that got a lot huger without council's apparent knowledge or approval. Miller will be called to give testimony at some future point in the proceedings.
"Closed-door meetings have to be the exception, not the rule, at City Hall. Public business should be done in public at City Hall, not in private boxes at the Air Canada Centre.'
The next chief magistrate will also need an ability to get along with other levels of government -- something Lastman was virtually incapable of. "I've got a different style than our current mayor," Miller quickly offers. "I have working relationships with members of the provincial government at Queen's Park. I've got working relationships with both of the opposition parties. Whoever's there, I can work with them.'
Miller adopts much the same attitude when it comes to relations with a civil service that was forced out on strike last summer by a mayor who wanted to take away job security provisions he'd personally given workers in previous contract negotiations.
"The people who deliver services and do the work for the city aren't our enemies," he stresses. "In having a positive relationship with them, we're going to be more productive, more efficient and actually get things done."
The would-be mayor is also opposed to the alternative service delivery policy council adopted as a means of contracting out and possibly privatizing some municipal programs.
"My view is that public services are best delivered by public servants," Miller says. That doesn't mean there won't be opportunities to make changes to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of services. But neither does it mean the private sector is necessarily the better or the cheaper way to go.
"You've got to be careful with public money. You've got to use it properly and wisely," says this mayoral candidate who's already being characterized by the political right as a tax-and-spend socialist.
"Those responsible for governing Toronto can make an incredible difference in the lives of people by increasing the possibilities for them,' Miller maintains. "People have to believe that their efforts make a difference to their community and that their municipal government will make a positive difference in their lives."
David Miller has almost exactly 10 months to convince Toronto voters he's the right person to lead that municipal government so he can help make that big difference.