Cha-ching, baby! Those were dollar signs -- and lots of them -- twinkling in the eyes of Mayor Mel's re-election fundraising co-chairs, Karen Miller and Peter Soumalias, last week at the Convention Centre, where over 1,600 fat-cat contributors tucked into a roast beef dinner to honour The Big Moose himself.
"This is the largest municipal fundraiser ever," Soumalias bragged at the podium, in the same room that hosted the largest political fundraiser in Canadian history for the Harris Tories just a few months ago.
In one evening, Mel raised over $500,000.
To put that into perspective, last year a split Toronto city council could only come up with $300,000 for a tenant defence fund to battle unscrupulous landlords.
"It now takes a minimum $1 million to run for mayor in Toronto," Soumalias told the room.
In 1997, maybe. But there's no Barbara Hall (read, serious threat) queuing up to take Mel on this time.
So, what are they going to spend all that cash on?
Mel's campaign spokesperson, Simon Dwyer, says that although there's still plenty more money to come in, they probably won't spend as much this time. However, Mel will be purchasing radio and TV blocks (so he can go negative on Enza and Tooker?).
"He'll have a big campaign that puts his name out there and makes him seem like the second coming of Christ," speculates one source who's worked on mayoral campaigns in the past. "And maybe some of it will be message-driven about the program he wants to enact as mayor."
Adds Sheila White, a former Mel staffer familiar with the mayor's past campaigns: "I would say a lot of it is going to go on promotional items."
Relax - police too lazy for election loyalties
For all the controversy surrounding the Toronto police union's endorsement of candidates in this November's municipal election, it turns out having the cops' backing doesn't count for all that much at the ballot box. At least that's been the experience of some seasoned political vets.
"All of this is inflated," says one City Hall insider. "I don't think the Police Association is capable of rallying enough men and women to help more than one candidate. You can't motivate them."
(Insert doughnut joke here.)
The union's backing, for example, didn't exactly turn the tide for Noble Chummar in the Scarborough Highland Creek by-election last September. Chummar finished way back -- and in a law-and-order part of town, to boot.
No. Politicos looking for a bump at the ballot box should be seeking the endorsement of the CUPE locals representing city workers, insiders say. And the union known for making a real difference at the ballot box, they say, is the one representing firefighters.
Unlike the cops, many of whom don't even live in the city, firefighters are always out in full force handing out literature and knocking on doors for their candidates.
How organized are they? It's no coincidence, observers will say, that firefighters have had to go to arbitration only once to settle contract disputes with the city in the last 50-odd years.
Says firefighters union vice-president Mark Fitzsimmons: "We take a lot of pride in the fact that we don't ask for what's unreasonable." A lesson, perhaps, for the police union.
Heavies at City Hall not allowed to politick
There's nothing stopping city employees who carry guns -- aka cops -- from getting involved in municipal elections.
But under a new policy developed by the administration committee, senior city staff will be barred outright from participating in municipal elections. The edict has been handed down by city CAO Mike Garrett.
City commissioners, statutory and bylaw officials, executive directors, general managers, directors and other senior staff "in positions of influence regarding programs and services (and) who have direct contact with members of council" are included in the ban.
A report to council states that the policy's purpose "is to maintain the neutrality of the public service... (and) address the need for employees to appear impartial."
The policy also prohibits city employees from wearing clothing or buttons at work that advertise any candidate.
Garrett is away on vacation and unavailable for comment. Alison Anderson, director of employee services, did not respond to a request for comment.
Councillor Jack Layton can understand the policy applying to city employees during work hours. But after hours? And what about the cops, he asks.
"It's the most twisted conception of democracy imaginable," he says. "It's like something you'd read out of a bizarre novel about an emerging dictatorship." EDM
Humanists unhesitant about taking on lefties
As if the lefties on council don't have enough to worry about trying to beat back right-wing efforts to unseat them in the coming November runoff.
Now a couple of them, David Miller and Olivia Chow, are finding themselves under attack from the political left, courtesy of the Humanist Movement.
Why run in two areas where the left already has a strong presence?
Humanist Movement candidate Robert Verdecchia, who's vying for Chow's seat in Trinity-Spadina, says the lefties on council just haven't been left enough on issues like the Olympics, homelessness, public transit and garbage.
"We're running on a platform of human rights, the environment and real democracy, and we recommend that all the decisions made in Toronto be evaluated according to whether or not they further human rights. I don't think any of the NDP councillors are saying that in their campaigns."
Miller could not be reached for comment, but Chow says she's more concerned about what plans her enemies on the right are concocting to disrupt her re-election effort. With the change in boundaries giving her two new areas to worry about in her own ward, she's feeling a little vulnerable. EDM
Total raised at Mel Lastman's election 2000 dinner: over $500,000 Total contributions to Lastman campaign in 1997: $1.1 million
Total contributions to Barbara Hall campaign in 1997: $1.3 million