Is there anyone in the audience who understands what Adam Giambrone is thinking?
In the run-up to this week’s formal start of the municipal campaign, speculation about his mayoral aspirations has grown ever more insistent, with NOW Magazine last week going so far as to predict he’ll prevail in October.
But the fact that he wants to run — and that the labour movement needs a standard bearer — doesn’t answer a basic question: why?
Giambrone is not 2010’s David Miller. What’s more, the political zeitgeist feels more like 1994 (Bob Rae/Barbara Hall in power, Mike Harris in opposition) than 2002 (Ernie Eves/Mel Lastman in power, Dalton McGuinty in opposition).
I suppose a back-of-the-envelope calculation may be bolstering Giambrone’s rationale: the right is crowded and getting more so – George Mammolitti, George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi, perhaps John Tory. Heading into the campaign, they trip over one another promising to be $1-a-year-men while Giambrone steers his Queen streetcar through the carnage and directly into the mayor’s office.
Or something like that.
Without a doubt, Adam is also reminding himself, as Rossi is on the centre-right, about the Miller creation myth, which saw a relatively unknown figure start with negligible polling numbers, only to vault to victory eleven months later.
Yet absent a clearly articulated goal, Giambrone’s bid seems to be constructed on several shaky assumptions:
• That Smitherman will let fiscal conservatism define his candidacy. My guess is that George, looking at the mounting traffic in the right-hand lane, will soon begin to target downtown, socially progressive voters with a handful of urban-minded wedge issues.
• That the field in October 2010 remains as large as it will be come January 2010. Does anyone remember John Tory’s bid to buy out John Nunziata in 2003? Any left or centre-left candidate who thinks they’ll be competing through the home stretch against a slate of right-wingers is fooling themselves.
• That voter anger towards Mayor Miller, with whom Giambrone is so closely aligned, will have subsided. Mel Lastman didn’t run in 2003, but Miller’s campaign drew an enormous amount of energy from his attacks against the symbols of Lastman’s tenure (lobbyists, airports, etc.).
• That he’s paid his dues. Giambrone had the mayor’s endorsement blowing in his sails for both the past two elections. And seven years in, he still radiates far too much personal political ambition, council’s version of the smart kid with the MBA who arrives in an corporate hierarchy, determined to snatch his boss’s job before he’s 30.
• That the middle class homeowners who supported Miller in 2003 and 2006 will back a labour candidate this time. Miller won those votes on the strength of his intellect and charisma. But after the levies, the strike and vehicle registration fees, that constituency certainly isn’t Giambrone’s for the taking.
The most problematic aspect of his run, however, is that it puts in play an important council seat, with no guarantee that Davenport will end up in the hands of another lefty. Indeed, if Joe Pantalone throws his hat into the ring, the centre-left could find itself two wards down at a time when municipal progressives will need to do everything they can to protect Miller-era gains on things like public transit and the environment.
Maybe Giambrone’s real game plan here is the usual career-building tactic: generate some city-wide name recognition with a gusty run and then win the federal NDP a fourth Toronto seat in the Commons.
From where I sit, Giambrone would do far more to prove himself as a Toronto pol to watch if he chose to fight for his local seat on council and stick around City Hall when the going gets tough.
photo by Rannie Turingan