Amid the hoopla at Adam Vaughan's victory party at Supermarket in Kensington Market, you have to pinch yourself to recall that this isn't an NDP bash.
The TV-journalist-turned-councillor spends the bulk of his speech talking about Alexandra Park, the public housing development a few blocks south. "We cannot leave these neighbourhoods behind,' he says in the best tradition of social democratic striving for social inclusion.
Besides the talk, the crowd is the all-aged, multi-hued urban rainbow the NDP likes to call its own. Vaughan even has good words for unionized city workers, who, he says, know Toronto better than anyone else, and he thanks supporters Zanana Akande (a former NDP MPP) and Avvy Go, a prominent public interest lawyer in the Chinese-Canadian community.
But the sight of a gloating Tony Ianno, the former Liberal MP ousted by Olivia Chow in a ferocious contest, leaning against the bar is the cue that this is something else. There are a lot of Grits here, thanks to Ianno's campaign help, many of them no doubt delighted to be dismantling NDP influence in the area and eagerly awaiting the looming federal election and a chance to snatch back the riding from Chow and company.
There are also a lot of faces here who likely would not be here but for the toxic nomination campaign precipitated by former councillor Chow's fatal decision to foist her ex-exec-assistant, Helen Kennedy, on the ward.
At Kennedy's election-night wake at the Blarney Stone pub near Queen and Bathurst, NDPers try out various theories to explain the loss. "It's flash over substance,' pouts Linda Chen regarding Vaughan's victory.
Kennedy herself appears flummoxed by the sad turn of events. "I know the media is not my strength,' she allows. "That's why I ran a door-to-door campaign.'
But the explanation for her demise is all around her, in the mostly white and middle-aged crowd dancing to Irish jigs and trying to keep up with Conservative senator and feminist activist Nancy Ruth on the dance floor.
Of course, there was a reason for Chow's heavy-handed push for Kennedy, who she believed would be more attractive than the somewhat old-school Tam Goossen to the major new presence in the ward: condo dwellers. But it's dangerous to run on someone else's coattails, especially those of a high-profile incumbent. It means being accountable for their record, but it also means absorbing their liabilities while being unable to rely on the personal loyalties they have cemented over the years.
And that bitter nomination fight only helped buttress Vaughan's point that the NDP machine needed taming.
So it's the attractively naive newbie he of the urban gardens and child-friendly downtown who's on his way to City Hall, the candidate who ran against the NDP's partisan role in city politics but who came across as more NDPish than the candidate he bested. Watching theatre maven Deanne Taylor at the victory party gently push Vaughan closer to the stage lights so his face won't be in the dark, I wonder how many artsy affairs she's attended where Jack Layton and Chow were the political guests of honour.
Chow, who herself will likely face the voters within the next six months, emerges from the municipal election weaker than before. It wasn't supposed to turn out this way.
With a loyalist like Kennedy minding the home turf, Chow would have been free to be the glam partner of her hubby, federal NDP leader Jack Layton, criss-crossing the country and attending to national matters.
Now she must be hoping that her old nemesis, Tony Ianno, succeeds in becoming president of the Liberal Party of Canada at its convention in Montreal later this month. Until he sees what happens there, he won't be deciding whether he'll run again federally, he tells me Monday night.
Stay tuned. The next political duel in Trinity-Spadina may be even more suspenseful than this one.