Photo by Lucas Oleniuk / Getty images
A quick glance at her watch, a handshake and, just like that, Karen Stintz is gone from the patio where she's been talking my ear off about how she can still win the mayoral race.
The elusive Stintz has always been a woman in a hurry. These days she can't run fast enough to save her political life.
The campaign that started with her proclaiming that people would remember her name before it's all over hasn't exactly caught fire. Stintz has underachieved.
That rumoured run for a federal seat should her mayoral dreams go poof, as they most certainly look to do, is no longer in the cards, she insists. And there's no going back to the council seat she's outgrown. "I'm all in," she says. "I only want to be the mayor, and if that doesn't happen, that's the end of my political career."
She almost chokes up when she says this, which makes the whole thing come off as a play for sympathy. It's hard to believe Stintz has no other political aspirations. That would fly in the face of everything we've come to know about her. But it's now or never.
Opinion makers for the daily papers are already writing her off. At least that's how former Star columnist Ian Urquhart, who is now providing media advice to her campaign, put it when he emailed a couple of weeks ago asking if I'd be interested in meeting with Stintz "to discuss her campaign and her ideas."
Turns out what she really wants to talk about during our 45-minute interview at Dineen Coffee Company on Friday, June 20, is how John Tory is mucking with her chances.
She won't come right out and admit she's peeved. Stintz rarely lets her guard down; she prefers to smile a big smile and say she's "motivated." But it's not difficult to read the resentment between the lines. You know you've hit a nerve when that look comes over her face.
"John will not win. I will never endorse John. I will never support John. I will never vote for John."
Her animus toward Tory is understandable on a certain level. She told him a year ago she was running, and Tory still jumped in under the mistaken belief, she says, that she might go back to council or try for that rumoured federal seat.
Stintz thought she was Bay Street's choice. After all, she's the one who's been fighting the good fight for the conservative cause at City Hall for the last 11 years. And she's the one who's proved her political bona fides, beating Rob Ford when she took him on over Transit City when everyone else on council was scared shitless of him.
That move may have won her momentary praise from lefty downtown voters who've always looked down their noses at her midtown sensibilities and naked ambition.
That risky transit stand came at great political cost, she says, with the Toronto Sun and Newstalk 1010 set whose votes she needs if she's to have any hope.
Now Tory's people are trying to push her out of the race, she says. "He's threatened my team that if I want to work again in this town, I should back off."
That last remark seems to come out of nowhere. ("If she means that we are raising more money than we know what to do with and she isn't, then, yes," is the somewhat bemused comeback from one Tory operative.)
She's vague on the particulars of the "threats" and then asks me to turn off the tape recorder sitting on the table between us.
The drama duly amped, she fails to offer anything we haven't heard before about Tory: how he led the provincial PCs to ruin during his tenure as leader ("He couldn't manage his own caucus. How is he possibly going to manage 44 councillors?"); how he killed the federal Tories when he headed up Kim Campbell's disastrous campaign; how he can't make a decision to save his life.
But it is true that with Rob Ford coming back into the race from rehab, Tory's path to victory just got more complicated.
Simply put, he can't win with Ford in the race; they split the right-wing vote and open the door for Olivia Chow. How Stintz profits from that scenario is hard to see. All she can hope for is to peel away some of Chow's female and left-lib vote, in which case she'd be helping Tory.
But an anybody-but-Chow strategy is beginning to take shape in the Stintz camp. It goes something like this: "If the only way people think they can beat Chow is to vote for Ford, they'll do it. So vote for me," Stintz is saying.
It's a very long shot, and she knows it. "I have to be in third place after Labour Day."
Can she even make it till then? The dynamic duo of Don Guy and Dave Gene, who helped former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty win three elections, are no longer on her team.
Guy, the so-called Prince of Darkness, actually hasn't been with the campaign since March. "While still supportive, I'm not in town enough to keep up," he says, though Stintz insists he's still with her.
Guy's was always an advisory role, so his departure can be explained as part of the campaign's natural evolution. Gene's, on the other hand, not so much.
Stintz says the decision to part ways "was the right thing to do for both of us," although it's clear that decision wasn't mutual. The scuttlebutt is that it had to do with money - as in not enough in the campaign to keep Gene around.
They've been replaced by Karl Baldauf, a former adviser to Tim Hudak, and Paul Brown, who worked on the campaign of Susan Fish.
Fish is the Red Tory who was forced to drop out of the 1991 mayoral contest for lack of resources after the business and development community put their money on eventual winner June Rowlands.
For Stintz, that Fish connection is looking like a bad omen.