we're going to start this new year on a positive note by applauding Mayor Mel Lastman for his plan to rescue the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from financial ruin.Actually, he says the initiative was the brainstorm of his wife, Marilyn. But amidst all the political dust kicked up in the final days of 2001 over a controversial contract that saw the cost of leasing computers go through the roof of City Hall, the brilliant orchestral manoeuvre didn't get nearly the attention it rightfully deserved.
"As soon as we heard about the TSO's financial problems, Marilyn said we had to do something to keep it alive," Lastman said in a news release issued by his office. "As far as we are concerned, a city without a symphony is a city without a heart."
The way the mayor has it figured, a Marilyn Lastman Save Our Symphony Ball in the spring will raise as much as $1 million in a single night to supplement the $773,640 grant the city gave the TSO last year.
"Now more than ever the community needs to rally in support of its symphony orchestra," said Bob Rae, the former NDP premier of Ontario who was called in to lead the TSO's uphill fight for survival.
"The mayor's and Mrs. Lastman's announcement will provide our campaign with a huge boost," Rae enthused. So what if the mayor delights in denouncing the New Democratic Party as a dwindling pack of political losers who don't know the first thing about running a business? Money is money, and there are reputations at stake here.
Marilyn Lastman has earned something of a reputation for lending her name to artistic and cultural causes in need of extraordinary cash fixes. And the mayor is quick to boast about how he was able to lift more than $1 million from the wallets of the city's corporate elite with one just lavish fundraising dinner to underwrite his successful 2000 re-election campaign against a worm composter and a drag queen.
So it stands to reason that the Save Our Symphony Ball will provide the TSO with the kind of money Lastman has pledged.
But the mayor shouldn't stop there. Why limit the Marilyn Lastman magic to arts and culture when so many other aspects of public life are also in dire need of monetary nurturing? Some may not be as sexy as the symphony or the opera or the theatre. But the city would have no heart without them either. And not simply because a lot of well-to-do folk would no longer have posh places to show off their designer finery and diamond-studded watches.
Toronto's beleaguered chief magistrate has been casting about of late for something to call his political legacy. It was supposed to be a sparkling waterfront born from a liaison with the Olympic rings. But the 2008 Summer Games never materialized, and there isn't a whole lot more out there that Lastman can easily claim as a grandiose accomplishment.
But with almost two years to go until the end of the current council term, there is an opportunity for the mayor to make the kind of contribution people will long remember.
The Save Our Symphony Ball is a good start. But how about a Marilyn Lastman Save Our Swimming Pools Ball? The mayor has been fuming about the Toronto District School Board coming to the city for money to keep 85 school pools open past the end of June. Here's a perfect chance for him to step into the breach with an inspired fundraising scheme. The news release would read: "The minute we got to the bottom of the swimming pool problem, Marilyn said we had to do something to keep them open. As far as we are concerned, a city without pools is city without a decent place to swim, because it's taking forever to get that damned waterfront cleaned up the way I wanted."
The take from the big party hosted by the Lastmans on the floor of some empty pool would keep many others open and shame the provincial government into providing the school boards with money to save the rest. The mayor would be widely applauded in newspaper editorials.
The Marilyn Lastman Save Our Transit System Ball would also be a winner. Patrons would have to purchase very expensive TTC tokens to board a special subway train for an exclusive evening of fine wining and dining and dancing. Proceeds from the event would prevent another hike in transit fares and convince David Collenette, the federal transportation czar, to get funding approved for a new Chardonnay line. The mayor would be hailed as a hero.
Over the course of the next two years, unique galas could be held to support many other worthy causes. The Marilyn Lastman Help Our Homeless Ball would refocus attention on a problem that her husband has failed to do much about in spite of his stated best intentions.
The Marilyn Lastman Spare Us Another Property Tax Increase Ball could prove very helpful around budget time 2003, with a municipal election looming in the fall.
And the Marilyn Lastman Help Mel Pay Off His City Of Toronto Credit Card Ball could prevent councillor Michael Walker from wreaking all kinds of havoc once the auditor completes a forensic review of municipal spending related to the city's failed Olympic bid. Walker has already sent the mayor a letter requesting answers to a bunch of questions about his use of the corporate plastic. It's all being done "in the spirit of transparency and openness," of course.
Wouldn't it be just great if Lastman could send Walker all those charge slips, stamped "Repaid In Full," before the Olympic audit has a chance to derail the mayor's agenda of future good deeds? It's a wonderful opportunity for Lastman to make a difference. Let's see if he has enough Balls to do it.