Yes, there is a municipal election going on right now. There are candidates and everything. Sure, in a number of the city's 44 wards the winner is a foregone conclusion, but in a number of others -- 10 to be exact -- there are real dogfights going on.
And in all 10 there's the hidden hand of Mel, who wants to recreate the council of yes-people he enjoyed during his first mandate as mayor of the megacity.
But it's turning out to be an uphill fight. He spent the first weeks of the election campaign in Australia dreaming of a Toronto Olympics, and returned home to find all hell breaking loose over the Adams Mine dump. It's as ugly as his last campaign against Barb Hall.
The people of Toronto will remember who's supporting the dump, as all of Mel's candidates do. That won't help them on election day.
Here are the 10 wards that will decide whether Mel can keep on being Mel after November 13 or be called to heel by councillors who neither fear nor owe him.
Broadview-Greenwood (Ward 29)Deputy mayor Case Ootes locks horns with former school board chair Gail Nyberg in a race Mayor Mel is most concerned about. Mel has already dispatched his campaign workers to knock on doors for Ootes, who got a surprise break recently when John Papadakis, a threat to split his right-wing vote, decided to drop out of the race.
Nyberg isn't entertaining any conspiracy theories about Papadakis's retreat. She's more miffed that Ootes used money from his office budget to take out full-page ads in the local newspaper before the race officially began this week.
Ootes the second-biggest dump booster after Mel himself will need to do all he can to fix his image among locals miffed that he doesn't return phone calls or show up at community events, a major no-no in homey East York.
Nyberg, who's already secured the backing of the construction trades union, may have a couple of other aces in the hole: the CUPE locals representing city workers are preparing to make their endorsements known. They're still stinging from layoffs and testy contract negotiations with the city.
Parkdale-High Park (Ward 14) Looking for a referendum on the Adams Mine? This race is it. Bill Saundercook, who's been riding on the mayor's coattails for months, was chair of the works committee that stewarded the Rail Cycle North deal through council. David Miller, a former Bay Street lawyer and an NDPer, voted against it.
Miller should have the edge here, since the new ward encompasses most of his old High Park stomping ground. Look for Saundercook to get a government post if he flames out.
St. Paul's (Ward 21) War was declared here months ago between NDPer Joe Mihevc and Tory Rob Davis.
A ferocious campaigner, Davis is quite adept at playing the political angles. Witness those timely leaks to the media about the hijinks his rival Joe Mihevc's allegedly been up to.
He has a few friends at Queen's Park, too. The Tories have apparently been doing a lot of polling in the area, and word is Davis looks solid.
Mihevc, meanwhile, has Grits MPP Michael Bryant and MP Carolyn Bennett bucking for him. He's been doing his damnedest, casting a few pro-Mel votes at council in the process, to make sure the mayor stays out of this race.
But Mel needs all the Tory toadies he can get, since the makeup of the next council may lean decidedly left. His friendly fundraiser, Jeff Lyons, has already lined up behind Davis, who represents a rare and irresistible political plus for Mel he's black and a Tory.
Davis has a seat on the TTC under his belt, but the skinny on him around City Hall is that he's not accessible, and is perhaps a little too ambitious.
Mihevc may hold the wild card in Liberal MPP and Mel backroom boy Mike Colle, who's worried about Davis's future political aspirations, which might include a run for Colle's provincial seat.
St. Paul's (Ward 22) Michael Walker, who's been a constant thorn in the mayor's side, is facing a suspicious namesake in Jim Walker. Who's Jim?
Well, for starters, he's a former president of the federal Progressive Conservative association in St. Paul's. Smells fishy.
For his part, Mayor Mel, who once said that Michael Walker was a good excuse for birth control, joked recently in council that he'd vote for Jim.
Etobicoke Centre (Ward 4)One of the few races involving incumbents has Liberal Mario Giansante squaring off against Tory Gloria Lindsay-Luby. No, neither is what you'd call a household name. And Giansante, a former insurance broker, isn't exactly media-friendly. He's brought in some public relations help to remedy that, although those spelling errors in his campaign literature are a little embarrassing.
Giansante is a grassroots politico known for meeting constituents at Richview Bakery to discuss their concerns. He also has the Italian vote, which makes up 17 per cent of the ward north of Eglinton, going for him.
Luby, who sits on the TTC and runs a successful consulting business on the side, will be banking on her contacts in the Ukrainian and WASP communities further south. She'll also have Mayor Mel's minions behind her and the endorsement of the Toronto Police Association.
This may explain why Giansante, who has his eye on a committee chairmanship should he survive into the next term, has been making noises about voting with the mayor on Adams Mine. Giansante may have to summon up some of that divine intervention (he's a regular and marriage counsellor at All Saints Church) to defeat Lindsay-Luby.
Etobicoke-Lakeshore (Ward 5)Blake Kinahan's progressive proclivities haven't endeared him to the mayor.
Enter Peter Milczyn, a former Etobicoke councillor, who has already copped the Toronto Police Association's endorsement, thanks to Kinahan's particularly scathing indictment of True Blue, the union's controversial fundraising effort aimed at police critics.
Kinahan will also be somewhat outside his natural political turf in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
Muddying the waters further is wild card Brian Flynn, whose previous unsuccessful campaign saw him finish a disappointing fourth. His war-hero father, Dennis, a former Metro council chair, will be helping him out this time around, along with Polish rock star Stan Borys, who Flynn hopes will make a dent in the 13-per-cent Polish vote in the riding. Former police chief David Boothby is also onside.
Flynn the younger's other political backers, however, remain a mystery. The list of financial contributors he's required to submit to the clerk's office went missing when his car was stolen.
Eglinton-Lawrence (Ward 16) North York good ole boy Milton Berger ventures further south than ever before to take on T.O. vet Anne Johnston in a battle of council's most senior members.
Milt's a bit of a dinosaur, as his comment last week about women belonging in the kitchen attests. Johnston should be able to make hay with sophisticated north Toronto voters.
Berger, though, has a number of factors on his side. Under realignment, he keeps a sizable chunk of his old ward. He also has old pal Mel's support up his sleeve, payback for Berger's 20-plus years of loyal service to the mayor. Word is, Mel will be parachuting in a couple of his heavies to help Milt. Sprinkle in the financial backing of a who's who of big developers and the ever-present Jewish vote, particularly within Orthodox Jewish ranks, and Berger, it would seem, has a big head start.
Voters may recall, however, that Berger's name figured prominently, although he was never charged, in the garbage kickback scandal that sent Mario Gentile to jail. And voters are getting a little fed up with politicos like Berger who follow the mayor's orders at every turn.
York South-Weston (Ward 12) Speaking of Mario Gentile yup, that was him in council watching the Adams Mine debate. Was the convicted influence-peddler checking out his new digs for the next three years? You bet.
Frank Di Giorgio's going to have to go negative big-time and make Gentile's sordid past the issue here. If he doesn't, all those Italian constituents who believe Gentile took the fall for the Lou Charles-Reuters garbage debacle, while other politicians slipped through the net, will stick him right back in council's face.
Pass the Tylenol bottle over to Ms. Nunziata, please.
Don Valley West (Ward 26) Incumbent Jane Pitfield is doing her best to downplay her Tory connections in an area that voted overwhelmingly against amalgamation and sent Harris cabinet minister Dave Johnson packing. "I'm here for everybody," she says.
But how else does a rookie councillor make her way onto the budget committee or, for that matter, have Mel insider Tom Jakobek on her campaign team if not for her Tory connections?
Lately, Pitfield's been trying to smooth over a controversial plan she has floated to revive the Leslie Street extension by cutting a swath through parkland in the Don Valley. Local ratepayers aren't amused.
Further east, immigrants and low-income earners in Flemingdon Park have some tough questions, too, about council cuts that have eaten into recreational and other services in the area. Tenants, a large voting bloc, are miffed that council didn't put up more cash to defend them from greedy landlords.
Here, Pitfield's rival, former North York politico Don Yuill, presents an intriguing challenge, especially since Pitfield has angered the mayor by her opposition to the Adams Mine, an issue that looms large here.
Yuill used to represent the North York part of this realigned ward, where Pitfield is a nonentity. He has a few Tory friends of his own, too, on the current council. Among them is Mayor Mel himself, who goes back a long way with Yuill's dad, Bob, a former North York controller.
Beaches-East York (Ward 32)While not taking a lead role on city-wide issues, rookie councillor Sandra Bussin has held her ground against her wily ward-mate, Tom Jakobek, for the past three years. Now the retiring Jakobek is backing 22-year school board trustee David Moll to knock off his ward adversary.
Watch Bussin make a big deal of Moll's three-month suspension by the Law Society of Upper Canada back in 98.
IN 10 WARDS, there are knock-down fights where Mel is trying to orchestrate the vote so he'll have another council of yes-people