So much for the "buzz" coming out of city hall. Of course Mel will run for re-election. NCurly's got the 2000 mayoral contest locked up. The city clerk's office would actually be doing taxpayers a favour, maybe even save some trees from the re-election sign heap, if they'd just call it off, give him the office and let us watch the World Series in peace this fall.
How's that for voter apathy?
It isn't very democratic, but all the elements of a Lastman coronation are in place.
His approval ratings are stratospheric -- unheard-of for a politician in the final year of his term. He's recognized in every corner of the megacity, if not the country.
The campaign money is practically in the bank, and the team is literally on standby.
Homeless problem He's got a lock on the suburban vote and has always appealed to visible minorities.
Vulnerable on the issues? Hardly.
So he hasn't actually solved the homeless problem or found more money for public transit. He's got the scars from the dust-ups with Queen's Park and Ottawa.
He's tough enough on crime and managed, more or less, to deliver his tax freeze. And he's finally got the 21st-century vision thing going, with the waterfront regeneration project and the Olympic bid.
Serious challengers? Fuggedaboudit. Whether they attack him from the right or the left, he's Teflon.
Barbara Hall actually outspent Lastman in 1997, out-debated him and campaigned on a more responsible platform. And she came up short thousands of votes.
If John Nunziata goes this time, the media will relish the battle. But the caustic independent MP will likely go too far right and too negative, pushing voters into the comforting arms of funny uncle Mel.
And that's the thing about this career mayor that drives his political rivals to distraction. The public can't stop liking the guy.
Professional political handlers dress up their cardboard candidates in denim shirts and comfortable shoes just to exude a little of that raw charisma that Mel has a natural abundance of -- gold rings, Rolex watch and neck chains included.
But putting Mel's blind popularity aside, why exactly is he running again?
I suspect Mel wants his ego stroked by at least three more years at the helm. The guy wouldn't know what to do with himself if he left the ring.
As well, his handlers, the behind-the-scenes power brokers who run the city, aren't ready to let go and groom a successor. Why risk it when the horse you've got is as close as you'll get to a sure thing?
When he officially announces his candidacy -- and the later the better for this campaign-shy mayor -- he will no doubt talk about a job that's only half-finished.
Tax shtick But despite all his success at the polls, Mel has never been able to fully convince his peers that he's got more to offer than just goofy salesmanship.
So what will we get out of Mel in a second term?
It's unlikely that he'll be able to corral council into lining up behind his no-tax-increase shtick for another three years.
While Mel has won kudos for allowing lefty councillors like Jack Layton and Olivia Chow to tackle child poverty, affordable housing and the environment, these have been limited initiatives not only because of the ignorance at Queen's Park and Ottawa, but also because of Mel's stifling no-new-tax policy.
And for every progressive initiative Mel supports, there's a regressive one right behind it.
He's sacrificed panhandlers, squeegee kids and the rave scene to score cheap law-and-order points. In fact, the mayor was so eager to court the cops, he failed to see how out-of-control the police union had become before the True Blue campaign blew up in Craig Bromell's face.
He attacked the city's inside workers when they hit the picket line for a long-overdue wage increase. He's allowed the proliferation of user fees in city community centres.
The sustainable future of this city needs innovative leadership and clever manoeuvring at Queen's Park and Ottawa.
Mel's hand-wringing is getting old. Does he have what it takes to do more than ham it up for the cameras? After nearly 30 years, I doubt it.
There are lots of reasons why Mel should call it a day.
But if Nunziata runs as a hard conservative, pushing deep tax cuts, Mel is going to look like the great progressive hope.
Stranger things have happened.
Give it up