Yet another press release from the Rocco Rossi camp appeared in my inbox late Friday afternoon, declaring – or more accurately, re-declaring – his outrage at the Jarvis Street bike lane, which apparently got a regulatory green light last week.
Predicting that a Jarvis bike lane will “exasperate traffic congestion” (sic), Rossi decried the decision to press ahead with a project that has spent years in the approvals process as a “clear affront to democracy and the voters of Toronto.”
A less trigger-happy candidate would surely know better than to commit this kind of nonsense to print. Why? Think ahead to Mayor Rossi’s longer-than-expected do-to list circa spring, 2014, when he’s struggling to push through the remaining items on his five-point mandate.
By the logic of his Friday statement, future opponents will get to slap Rossi around for running roughshod over the voters’ intentions. So the spin begs a question: at what point in a mandate does the ruling party or leader lose the moral authority to act? (Answer: when the mandate ends.)
Rossi is apparently trying to make Jarvis Street into the island airport of the 2010 campaign. He’s magnifying a local planning decision into a symbol of what he alleges is wrong with David Miller’s city hall, just as Miller himself positioned the bridge as a symptom of the cronyism that pervaded Mel Lastman’s regime.
It may also work effectively as a wedge for Rossi because George Smitherman defends bike lanes on arterials and didn’t have anything to say one way or the other about the Jarvis redesign when he was the MPP for the area.
More than all this, though, Rossi’s move has a decidedly familiar feel. This is the sort of thing John Tory did in 2003, when Rossi ran his campaign: they employed a blunderbuss approach, flooding the media with daily pronouncements.
Indeed, so far in this race, Rossi seems to be playing the hare to Smitherman’s tortoise. According to conventional wisdom, Furious George is keeping his powder dry, assembling the team, laying the foundation, etc.
Or is he just being complacent?
When the budget came out last week, Rossi had a pithy response ready to roll: “Toronto budget delivered on Mardi Gras – how appropriate,” he told The Sun. “It has been Fat Tuesday at City Hall for too long.” His financial analysis, such as it was, seemed largely borrowed from the number-crunching that’s been coming out of the Toronto Board of Trade. But he succeeded in getting himself into the story.
Smitherman’s team, by contrast, took the better part of a day to come up with a critique so flat and clichéd that budget chair Shelley Carroll simply brushed it aside in The Globe and Mail with a been-there-done-that parry.
What’s with that? For all Smitherman’s success as a parliamentarian and a minister, his skill as a responsive campaigner remains open to question. He was the mastermind of Barbara Hall’s disastrously unfocused 2003 run, of course, and there are some hints that he hasn’t learned from his mistakes, the most glaring of which is adopting a no-profile front-runner stance in an incumbent-free race.
He’s got nothing but a placeholder for a website, has put his campaign office out of sight of the public (as Hall did), and lacks any sort of clear statement of purpose. By contrast, Rossi, who needs as much free name recognition as he can get, is on his second round of major public speeches, and is fiercely staking out his turf in the media and on social networking sites.
It all makes one wonder: when will the tortoise get off its ass and start waddling?