deputy mayor case ootes has to be one very ticked-off politician these days. And why wouldn't he be?As recently as a month ago, the veteran councillor for Ward 29 (Toronto-Danforth) was the perceived front-runner in the unofficial race to replace Mel Lastman in the mayor's chair. Publicly, at least, Lastman's traditional backers were seen to be lining up in droves to support the incumbent chief magistrate's second-in-command.
But somewhere along the well-charted route from his councillor's office to the mayor's chair, something went very wrong for Ootes. So long as he was seen to be the lone right-wing conservative on a mayoral ballot looking more and more like it would have both former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall and councillor David Miller fighting it out for lefty supremacy, the electoral die was seen to be cast in Ootes's favour.
Problem was, there were (and still are) other right-wingers with parking privileges in the City Hall lot who figure they're every bit as qualified to be head hound as the current deputy dog.
The minute councillors Paul Sutherland and Doug Holyday started musing about their own mayoral ambitions, the corporate cabal headed by Blue Jays boss and former Metro chairman Paul Godfrey started getting nervous. While the powerbrokers continued to pay lip service to Ootes as their preferred candidate, they were privately headhunting.
When John Tory -- perennial Conservative backroom boy and now Rogers Cable CEO -- finally got around to expressing some interest in getting himself elected to municipal office, the Machiavellian Godfreyites figured they had someone who would run the city like a cable company. Welcome to negative-billing democracy. And faster than you could possibly say "no" to the History Channel, Ootes was scratched from a competition he once had a decent chance of winning. Oh, how quickly political fortunes can change.
But if John Tory's supposed desire to be mayor of Toronto was going to narrow the right-wing field to just a single serious candidate, the strategy backfired. Instead, the move has brought other potential non-council candidates onto the field. Say hello to former councillor Tom Jakobek and former maverick MP John Nunziata.
Tory had no sooner indicated that he's leaving his door open to a mayoralty bid than Jakobek was firing off letters to the editors of Toronto's daily newspapers blasting the one-time commissioner of the Canadian Football League for insinuating that Lastman would announce his retirement plans sooner than expected to accom
"For a person to come out and suggest that the mayor needs to make his intentions known and become a lame duck so he can go after the position is wrong," spat the city's long-time budget chief, who quit politics two years ago to pursue a truncated career in hospital administration while earning his MBA. Jakobek was adamant that if Lastman doesn't seek re-election he'll be running for the position he has long coveted. And Tory's possible candidacy doesn't scare him one bit.
"There's no groundswell of support for him," Jakobek said of the man who co-chaired Lastman's 2000 campaign. "People don't even know who he is."
Nunziata wasn't put off by the threat of Tory's presence either.
"I have no concerns there. It doesn't impact on me," the former York South-Weston MP said this week after going public with his own plans to become Toronto's next chief magistrate. All Tory has done, Nunziata suggested, is provide ample proof that Lastman won't be going after a third term. That was exactly the spark the not-too-long-ago member of the Liberal rat pack needed to get him off his derriere.
Nunziata considered challenging Lastman two years ago but couldn't bring himself to quit his seat in the House of Commons to undertake what he eventually decided would be a suicide mission. But within a matter of weeks Nunziata lost his seat anyway when the Liberal party he'd been kicked out of for voting against the GST recaptured the riding with another former Metro chair, Alan Tonks, as its flag-carrier.
Nunziata figures there'll be "six or eight serious candidates" on the ballot when Torontonians head to the civic election polls less than 12 months from now. If you subtract Miller and Hall from that number, it would mean as many as six right-of-centre candidates could be in the thick of things. In addition to the five names already mentioned in this space, Toronto police services board chair Norman Gardner has said he's ready to go if Lastman bids a final farewell.
"I like where I'm positioned," Nunziata said of his own chances. And it stands to reason that most of the others would have to feel much the same way. Still, plenty of pressure to back off will be brought to bear on most of these candidates by the small but very well-connected clique who've been dictating what goes on at City Hall for most of the past two decades.
Of course, there's lots of force being exerted on the left as well. Hall's agents have spent the past year trying to convince Miller and his growing band of supporters that the Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park) councillor hasn't got enough of a public profile and that his candidacy will only split the centre-left vote and lead to another win by the right. Miller, meanwhile, is confident that 12 months is plenty of time to improve his standing outside of City Hall.
But the bigger the crowd of conservative-minded candidates gets, the less urgency there is for the left to commit all its resources to a single camp. And that, quite frankly, is good news for hungry Toronto voters. Instead of being forced to decide between just a couple of entrees on an uninspired political menu, there could be an excellent variety to choose from.