The 519 Church community centre is known for great all-candidates debates, and Wednesday's nght's dust-up between the Toronto Centre byelection candidates does not disappoint.
It is Liberal Bob Rae and Conservative Don Meredith who provide most of the electricity. Luckily, the seating pattern positions them in the middle of the platform separated only by the libertarian crackpot running for the Canadian Action Party.
There's an antipathy between these two very different men - one a Rhodes scholar who used to be premier of Ontario, the other a Jamaican immigrant who owns a landscaping business, serves as a volunteer pastor at a Pentecostal church in Richmond Hill and fronts the faith group that has called attention to growing gun violence in minority communities.
Meredith, as he has done at other debates I've been to, presents himself as a community activist whose only aspiration is to serve the people. "Mr. Rae is running to get Mr. [Stephane] Dion's job and become prime minister."
Aside from the obligatory boos from the Liberal hacks in the room, Meredith doesn't get much of a bounce from the crowd, nor any direct contradiction from Rae that that's his master plan.
Beneath the normal political bantering there's something personal, touching on the bitter, between the two.
When Meredith, as he is wont to do, talks in the cadence of Revelations about the "rivers of blood flowing in our streets" because of gun violence, Rae pounces. "Don, I don't think the streets are flowing with blood. That's a noxious phrase and it doesn't describe the Toronto Centre and the residents that I know."
Judging by crowd reaction, they're with Rae. Irritated with being outfoxed by the wily Grit, Meredith starts to heckle from his seat. Rae hands him the microphone. Surprised by the gesture, Meredith freezes for a few seconds, and Rae takes back the mike. But the Harperite recovers, stands and talks about the merchants on Parliament Street who have told about being the victims of gang shakedowns - pay up or watch out.
Of course, Rae has the natural advantage among this crowd heavily represented by fags and dikes. When he talks about his pride in the Charter of Rights, it reaches the hearts of those for whom equality came from the courts, not politicians. And there are questions on transsexual rights, safe drug injection sites and AIDS funding that the positions of his party put him offside with this crowd.
By 8:55 pm, Meredith is looking at his watch, apparently happy that the end of the roughest ride he'll get during this campaign is only five minutes away.
On the one hand, he had to come, because to do so would be such a slight to gays and lesbians that all the riding - heteros included - would take note.
But of such local moments, miracles are made. "As a black man, I know what it is to be treated like an outsider," Meredith says in his closing remarks. "Therefore, I can appreciate the discrimination suffered by LGBTQ people," using the most au courant acronym for this very politicized part of the electorate.
Considering the words come from a Pentecostal preacher from Richmond Hill, there's reason for hope.