Mayor Mel has a limousine. His challenger has a bike. The mayor has the front cover of every newspaper in the city. His challenger has an old garbage-picked tallis with "Tooker Gomberg for Mayor" painted on it. NThe mayor has a slinky PR machine run from the boardrooms of City Hall. Gomberg has a slippery worm composting machine that he runs from the basement of City Hall.
Mel is taking a wee sojourn in Sydney to freshen up before his shoo-in campaign. Gomberg is busy accosting whistle-blowing freshmen wearing "Puck You" T-shirts at the U of T campus fair.
Most pass him by, or drawl "Kewwwl," take his flyer and drop it 5 feet later. One gaggle of girls protests that they're too young to vote. Go figure.
"I don't have any skittles or frisbees or condoms -- it's hard to get people's attention," Gomberg sighs, clutching his homemade batch of orange "Join our grassroots campaign!" election flyers.
Not that Gomberg hasn't had practice getting attention. In addition to his regular gig as an all-round environmentalist troublemaker, educator and writer (including occasional contributions to NOW), Gomberg was a city councillor in Edmonton from 1992 to 95, ran for the federal NDP in Outremont, Quebec, in 1997 and took a stab at the Edmonton mayoral spot in 1998.
And now he's back, taking aim at Mel.
Of course, he has about as much chance of winning as his worms do of getting a table at Canoe, but as city councillor Jack Layton says of what some might consider Gomberg's occasional unseemly political behaviour (i.e., fraternizing with people who lock themselves to vehicles or make puppets -- that sort of nonsense), "Tooker is endlessly playful and creative. This is going to make things more interesting at any rate," he says, though Layton has declared himself neutral in the mayor's race.
"I figured if we could get some attention for the issues and have some fun along the way it would be worth it," says Gomberg philosophically.
It was the garbage that did it. Gomberg, who moved to Toronto just last year for a job at Greenpeace, was one of the most active opponents of the ecologically questionable plan of shipping Toronto's garbage up to an open pit in Kirkland Lake and is the founder of Stop Considering the Adams Mine. "I was shocked," he says of council's decision to foist T.O.'s trash on the unwilling northern community. "If we go ahead with this, we're going to have war on our hands."
"Hey! I heard the good news!" says a young guy in a Che shirt and an OCAP button as he stops to shake Gomberg's hand. Gomberg quickly scrawls the guy's name in his growing little book of e-mail addresses.
The mayor raised a million dollars two weeks ago, but Gomberg and his de facto campaign manager, fellow activist and wife Angela Bischoff, are busy bragging about how many e-mail addresses they're collecting for their street-level campaign.
Not surprisingly, while the 45-year-old Gomberg has no shortage of "Tookerites" in enviro and social justice circles -- David Suzuki, for one, endorsed his Edmonton mayoral run -- it doesn't seem he's overly popular outside the mini-land of the eco-left.
"The media liked me because I was colourful," says Gomberg of his time on Edmonton council. "But after I was elected they focused on silly things."
For example, Gomberg and one of his anti-fans, longtime former Edmonton city councillor Ron Hayter, repeatedly made headlines for an ongoing squabble over the fact that Gomberg refused to wear a tie to council.
"He looked like a bum rather than a representative of the people. He dressed like a tramp. He came to council in hand-me-down clothes," fumes Hayter, who also calls Gomberg -- among other things -- "a colossal time waster" (he thought municipal politics was a good place to talk about the rainforest), an "environmental terrorist" (he's currently facing mischief charges in Calgary for a protest against an energy company) and "a master of sucking money from the government via grants" (most recently, Gomberg managed to squeeze $25,000 from the Millennium Fund so he and Bischoff could take off on the latest leg of their "Greenspiration Odyssey," a bicycle tour to different parts of the world to collect inspiring environmental stories).
"He got beat pretty good in the next election, which was a great pleasure to us," continues Hayter. "The public had had enough of him. We're glad Toronto has him. Keep him there! Elect him mayor so he never comes back here again."
Diminish effectiveness "I think in life we have our lovers," muses Gomberg, "and that guy hated me. He made it his business to diminish my effectiveness."
According to Gomberg, during his tenure as councillor he was instrumental in saving the city $300 million by spearheading a water conservation program, helped clean up the rivers by tightening the city's sewers use bylaw and worked to secure North America's largest composting plant.
He says he doesn't have any specific Toronto proposals yet (hey, neither does Mel), but that the campaign is going to focus on smog, homelessness and Toronto's dastardly imperialist garbage. But in an e-mail he sends out urging people to join him to "rock this town," he throws in the Olympics, the police, green taxes, Lake Ontario, cyclists, small business, tenants' rights, pesticides, solar energy and urban agriculture, just for good measure.
He also calls for silkscreeners, artists and musicians to join the Tooker G-Force One, so one can only imagine what kind of trouble he's planning.
"We're going to be holding mediagenic events in the tradition of direct action and using theatre to raise social issues," he promises. Uh-oh....
Abandonned stunts Peter Tabuns, executive director of Greenpeace, when asked what he thinks makes Gomberg tick when most enviros his age have abandoned media stunts and taken reasonable, respectable jobs, responds, "Aw, Leah, I don't want to sound corny (hey, this is Tooker -- corn is part of the natural equation), but he's got a great sense of fun and he cares really profoundly about people and the environment. He just enjoys what he's doing."
For more information about Gomberg's campaign, check out www.GombergForMayor.org
* elected to city council in 1992
* spurred composting plant
* became first resident to have wind power at home
* took a hot-air balloon tour over Edmonton to survey urban sprawl
* buried car to mark 100th anniversary of first cyclist death
* placed gas mask on Winston Churchill statue to protest smog
* keeps the worms for city's composting program
* laid sod on Bay Street for Global Street Party
* checked on polar bear health in the Far North for Greenpeace
* arrested in Calgary at World Petroleum Congress