If there's any silver lining at all to the gang violence that's pummelled the city, it's got to be the fact that more black 20-somethings are braving the political arena.
With guns and safety top of mind among voters, there's suddenly keen interest in a hulking Seventh Day Adventist youth worker in Ward 12, York South-Weston, one of T.O's poorest areas, currently represented by two-termer Frank Di Giorgio.
Ward 12, which runs from a bit south of Eglinton to the 401 and from just west of Caledonia to Jane, has more single mothers, more families living below the poverty line and more first-generation immigrants than the municipal average. About one in five residents is black.
While the city has identified 13 priority neighbourhoods for focused investment, not one of them is in Ward 12. Enter Keith Sweeney, Superman enthusiast and anti-poverty campaigner.
"City Hall and the media are hyping the gun violence, and that's good because communities are getting attention," he says. "But this one is getting left behind because no one was shot here, though people from here have been killed in other places. This area isn't getting its fair share of programs.'
Sweeney lives with his younger brother in a basement flat off Jane and Lawrence where one wall is lined with pairs of his size-15 boots and basketball shoes, and Superman comic books, merchandize and posters set the tone.
"Growing up in a five-person family in a two-bedroom apartment makes me more sympathetic to what other people are going through," he says.
He looks back fondly on his high school home-ec courses. When there wasn't money for groceries, he'd deliberately screw up his pizza, ask the teacher if he could try again and then eat both attempts for lunch.
Despite being endorsed by the Labour Council, Sweeney is definitely in underdog territory. Di Giorgio comfortably won re-election in 2003 by 3,500 votes over Liberal social worker Joe Renda, who was endorsed by most local papers. Renda is running again on a program to beautify streets, for public safety and "to recuperate the integrity and compassion of our city.'
Facing his opposition, Di Giorgio declares himself not overconfident, but not worried either. Called part of the "mushy middle' by NOW in the 2003 election, he's being dissed by citizen groups for opposing the pesticide ban and backing the Front Street Extension, garbage incineration and the controversial trial of Eucan trash bins.
The developer-friendly Di Giorgio served as a Mel Lastman yes-man in the old North York council, and despite two decades in politics has an astonishingly low profile. He, too, sees safety as a major concern.
"One of the only things we can do is to try to help police deal with it in the best way they can by cooperating with them," he says. He goes on to add that more money should go into early education, and that putting more police on the streets isn't the answer.
Not good enough for Sweeney, who thinks Di Giorgio has done nothing to address the root causes of violence in the ward. "Putting more police onto the streets is like putting a band-aid over a gash," says the candidate, who promises to fight the Safe Schools Act "tooth, hammer, nails and bats."
His program calls for more mentorship programs and job creation for at-risk youth. Isn't David Miller already doing that? I ask. "Yeah," he answers. "But it would be good to have someone who agrees with him on council."
Sweeney summarizes his platform as "creating alternatives and bringing about empowerment,' and his website is bravely inspirational: "We are born to make and manifest the glory of God that is within us. Not just in some of us it's in everyone.'
He is pushing youth services and promises to actually build a long-promised rec centre near Eglinton and Keele; Di Giorgio pledges the same but in two terms hasn't yet delivered. He also wants to transform a vacant building into an art school.
"Every day, I wake up, I see the Superman logo and it reminds me how human I am, but also gives me strength to fight. I am the black Superman," the 6-foot-5er says, beaming widely with mock grandeur.