It's been a while since Torontonians had such an incredible opportunity to reshape local politics and help push the urban agenda in a new direction. In fact, you have to look back more than three decades to recall the time when a young David Crombie led a reform movement in opposition to the planned Spadina Expressway and ended up sitting in the mayor's chair. Jane Jacobs remembers those heady days very well. The 87-year-old planning guru helped direct Crombie's drive for change at City Hall. And she's back at it again as a high-profile supporter of councillor David Miller's surging campaign for the mayoralty.
Jacobs is doing everything in her personal power - including sending fundraising letters to friends and colleagues - to ensure that the candidate she first endorsed a year ago maintains the powerful momentum he's building.
"I believe this is the most crucial election in Toronto's recent history," the respected author and urban thinker said in one of those missives this week. "The time has come for new ideas, a new way of conducting business, even for a new generation of politicians."
Toronto voters have been given a bonus chance to usher in another reform era. Not only can they pick the best possible replacement for the departing Melvin Douglas Lastman, but electors can also decide who will fill the spots left vacant by the 10 municipal politicians who decided not to seek re-election. Add to that number the handful of incumbent councillors who are facing vigorous challenges from would-be usurpers and it's conceivable that more than 25 per cent of the political roster could change.
Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park): This is Miller turf, and there are six candidates looking to take over here. The best known is former councillor and one-time works committee chair Bill Saundercook, who watched his rabid support for the Adams Mine waste disposal plan turn into resounding defeat at the incumbent's hands three years ago.
The environment is still big in the "green" ward, as is the issue of neighbourhood protection from growing development pressure. Miller is supporting planner Stan Kumorek in this contest.
Ward 14 (Parkdale-High Park): Councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski is putting a merciful end to his 22-year political career and throwing his personal support behind local printer Ed Zielinski. But the K-K stamp of approval may not be enough to derail the strong campaign being mounted by Sylvia Watson, the former head solicitor for the old city of Toronto. Watson doesn't live in the ward, but her legal work on housing issues has given her more of a profile than Zielinski.
Ward 6 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore): This was Irene Jones territory until she made her unsuccessful bid for a provincial NDP seat last month. Ten candidates are vying to replace her. The best-funded contender is Berardo Mascioli, former executive assistant to councillor Mario Silva. Mascioli also received the endorsement of mayoral candidate Barbara Hall. But Miller is lending support to the campaign of Humber College prof Jerry Smith, who also has Jones canvassing for him.
Ward 17 (Davenport): This is the seat vacated earlier this year by former councillor Betty Disero. Her long-time executive assistant, Cesar Palacio, is campaigning to fill the opening, but community activist Alejandra Bravo has NDP backing, has knocked on a lot of doors in the ward and looks to be winning the sign wars. Crime prevention, access to municipal services and a designated lane for streetcars on St. Clair West are the hot-button issues.
Ward 18 (Davenport): Mario Silva's decision to seek a federal Liberal nomination has left federal NDP president Adam Giambrone looking to fill the void. Only 24, Giambrone took a serious run at Silva three years ago and never stopped campaigning. He's the front-runner this time out, although Ana Bailao, another Silva aide with political ambitions, is trying to make a race of it in a neighbourhood where the murder of Holly Jones made crime a major issue.
Ward 25 (Don Valley West): Jaye Robinson, now on leave from her job as the city's director of special events, is looking to fill the vacancy created by councillor Joanne Flint's exit for an Ontario Municipal Board appointment. Cliff Jenkins, president of the York Mills Ratepayers Association, is also said to have a good core of support in the North York ward where housing and declining city services are considerable concerns.
Ward 30 (Toronto-Danforth): The battle to replace Jack Layton has attracted eight combatants, but the real fight is between one-term school trustee Paula Fletcher, North Riverdale Ratepayers Association president Maureen Gilroy and well-known lesbian activist Chris Phibbs. Fletcher has Layton's backing. Gilroy, who made a name for herself opposing Layton's plans for more homeless shelters in the ward, is supported by Dennis Mills, the local Liberal MP who expects to be going up against Layton in the next federal election. Phibbs, long-time executive assistant to councillor Kyle Rae, has the endorsement of her boss and Barbara Hall.
Ward 33 (Don Valley East): Councillor Paul Sutherland's failed attempt to win a seat for the defeat-bound Tories in the recent provincial election set up a contest between former councillor Rob Davis and popular public school trustee Shelley Carroll. Davis, a longtime Conservative from the old city of York, was trounced by Joe Mihevc in Ward 21 (St. Paul's) when council was downsized three years ago. A comeback will be difficult against Carroll, who has a much higher profile in the ward. Davis is getting help from the Sutherland camp and Conservative councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong's forces in neighbouring Ward 34.
Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre): This seat opened up when Lorenzo Berardinetti left City Hall for provincial politics and got himself elected Liberal MPP for Scarborough Southwest. Seven candidates are in the running, but the two heard most often are Michael Thompson and Laura-Maria Nikolareizi. Thompson was Berardinetti's long-time assistant, and Nikolareizi was a member of Lastman's City Hall staff. Slim pickin's here.
Ward 38 (Scarborough Centre): Keep an eye on environmental activist Glenn De Baeremaeker in this race to replace recently elected Liberal MPP Brad Duguid at City Hall. De Baeremaeker is well known in Scarborough for leading the Save the Rouge Valley campaign. Virginia Jones, who spent the past two years working as an assistant to Duguid, is among five other candidates seeking the seat.
Among the incumbent councillors facing the strongest challenges for their jobs are Suzan Hall in Ward 1 (Etobicoke Centre) and Michael Tziretas in Ward 31 (Beaches-East York). Tziretas is in a tough race against Janet Davis, a children's services adviser for the Toronto District School Board, who came within 54 votes of beating him in the 2001 by-election to replace now NDP MPP Michael Prue.
Suzan Hall has been a lacklustre performer ever since she beat former Etobicoke mayor Bruce Sinclair out of a seat at City Hall three years ago. The complaints about Hall are much the same as those about Sinclair - aloof behaviour and a failure to adequately respond to constituents' concerns.