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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

SPACING VOTES: Making the case for Pantalone


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Spacing invited Andrea Addario, David Miller’s communications director in the 2003 mayoral campaign, to address whether Joe Pantalone should consider dropping out of the mayoral race.

On Monday in this space, John Lorinc argued that Joe Pantalone should bow out of the mayoral race, in light of a Nanos Research poll that has Rob Ford in a bracing lead over his opponents.

I disagree. The city is in an ugly mood, and it is most certainly not the time for anyone to be conceding to Ford, least of all Pantalone, the only other candidate who has exhibited any upward momentum.

To beat Rob Ford – and of course it’s possible in five weeks, longer than a provincial election campaign – another candidate must communicate the blunt choice facing Toronto now. The widespread agreement that Rob Ford is a polarizing figure has so far failed to produce an inspiring candidacy on the opposite pole in the public consciousness.

The credible alternative to Rob Ford is not a candidate that panders to the same parts of the city’s lizard brain. Any campaign that successfully counters Ford’s rage, in both its incoherent and specific forms, needs to reach the progressive, compassionate heart of Toronto – the Toronto that rejected Mike Harris and still rejects Stephen Harper.

Is that George Smitherman? Not looking likely. In his craven bid to appeal to the same destructive anger as Ford, he threw away the opportunity to be that alternative. Smitherman has embraced spending freezes, privatization, and tax cutting. What’s the message here? Look at me! I’m just like Rob Ford! But I live downtown, so I’m somehow less scary? It hasn’t worked.

Lorinc makes the comparison between the candidacies of one-time frontrunner Smitherman and Barbara Hall, who in 2003 also started way at the head of the pack. When Hall started to tumble in the polls, her downward slide was steady and inevitable. Why should this be different for Smitherman, given how he has hobbled himself?

If possible, Smitherman has run an even worse campaign than Hall. Whereas in 2003 she said little and created no persona for herself other than entitled, Smitherman has crafted a shrill, bizarre image he is probably now stuck with.

Is Joe Pantalone the guy to offer the counter to Ford? He could be, should he find a way to energize an increasingly demoralized city. As an immigrant, he would represent at least a nod in the direction of the real face of Toronto. As a Council veteran, his record suggests the ability to run a pragmatic and functional team. As an environmentalist, he has a vision of a Toronto not defined solely by resentment over a vehicle registration tax. And he’s not a screamer, something I appreciate every time I see footage of Ford and Smitherman.

It’s a tough road for any candidate opposing Ford right now. But here’s another reminder from 2003: David Miller did not rise out of the teens in the polls until Thanksgiving. Right up until that point, the Hall campaign exerted constant pressure for him to fold, claiming that he was stealing “Barbara’s votes” and risking a John Tory mayoralty. We know how that turned out: Miller and Tory ignored her, waged high-energy campaigns with exciting debates, and they left her in the dust on election day.

Maybe we should put the 2003 comparisons to bed. This campaign is its own thing – and so far its tenor has been really corrosive. This is not the moment for anyone to drop out and concede defeat to a candidate whose sole message is “tear it down.” With five weeks to go, a frontrunner can fall a long way. Someone needs to take Rob Ford head on and clarify the choice Toronto must make. Get moving, people.



  1. I don’t believe anyone should put 100% faith/trust and stock in these polls, scientific or not and based their decisions on them. Just wait til people actually vote and see what happens.

  2. Pantalone, though a good councillor, doesn’t have it to be mayor. Neither does it seem that Thomson (road tolls will be needed soon to help pay for infrastructure) or Rossi (crazy Big Dig money wasting & polluting car tunnels) have it.

    Perhaps it’s time David Miller stepped into the race. Polls of a few weeks ago stated he’d be the only potential mayoral candidate with a chance to defeat Ford. He can articulate his vision better than Smitherman & the other 3 main opponents to Ford. He’s someone we can rally around. And he’s come from behind before, to beat Barbara Hall.

    Think about it.

  3. Regarding my comment “road tolls will be needed soon to help pay for infrastructure”, this is a good thing. Though tough to sell, especially to the car driving suburbanites. However, this discussion needs to happen.

  4. Interesting argument, though I do not know if I can buy it. I am pretty sure that Smitherman has blown it. I do have to wonder if the forced amalgamation of the cities by Harris was intended to make the cities more conservative by the unwholesome grafting on of the inner suburbs: thus the Ford momentum. The core and the inner suburbs are different animals, and whatever your own politics, they’d better represent themselves separately from each other.

  5. Thanks for this article. I’ve been wondering the last few weeks why Pantalone is polling so low. He’s the only one who’s really different than Ford. It seemed Smitherman would get the anyone-but-Ford vote, but he’s positioning himself further and further right, trying to win over some Ford supporters. I wonder if people just keep telling each other that Pantalone doesn’t stand a chance, like some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.  

    When I consider a specific issue (like transit, environment, urban development, public health, social housing, etc.) and look at the candidates’ position, it is abundantly clear that Pantalone would best represent. Even when it comes to the city’s finances, Pantalone is the only one who seems to recognize the FACTS about the budget and the need to raise revenue and spend money to invest in the city. As well, Pantalone would fit exceptionally well in the position of mayor since the mayor needs to build consensus with council – he’s worked not just with Miller but with Lastman. He has that ‘institutional memory.’ 

    I should say, too, that I don’t think Pantalone is some “amazing” person or some “white knight” or that I totally agree with everything he’s said or done. But I do believe he’s the best candidate we have to choose from.

    (Note: the latest Nanos poll is of 1000 people with land-lines who answer an “unknown caller.”)

  6. AA is right Joe shouldn’t drop out, the whole concept is silly and moot at this point anyway the ballot is set. George is re-living 2003 and his “I Love Toronto” ad’s are a clear indication he has nothing left in the tank..I love Toronto too! can I be Mayor! George should be the one packing it in.

    Joe does have momentum at this point but the problem is so does Ford. 2003 its was Hall and Nunziata competing in the race to the bottom, only George is on that path this time…so what to do?  Clear and concise message about what you would do as Mayor (stop pulling the Al Gore routine you must have disagreed with something Miller did)….Simple messages have worked for Ford to this point..cant be all things to all people as the saying goes – So Pants, go to your base, work it to turn out…the suburban base of Ford’s vote has not been traditionally strong at showing up. Oh and AA’s comment out Miller not pulling out of the teens until Thanksgiving…there where still 5 weeks to go in 2003….we’ve just past that point….good luck, you will need that and then some….. 

  7. With the importance of this election and the consequences of Rob Ford mayoralty being so apparent, I have to again wonder when civic affairs blogs/publications like Spacing will endorse a candidate.

  8. I’m voting for Pantalone, but I’d like to see some of Pantalone’s visions for Toronto. Now is the time for him to step up his game. So far he is as Rossi says “Miller Lite”.

  9. Mr. Pantalone is my choice for mayor as well…but since Mr. Pantalone was Deputy Mayor under Mr. Miller, and the author is a former Miller campaign staffer, an undecided voter would be right to consider this a biased article. I would be more persuaded if this was written by someone unconnected with either men.

    That connection may be why Ms. Addario ignores the danger that Mr. Pantalone represents for people seeking an alternative to Mr. Ford. Much of the public anger that has coalesced around Mr. Ford’s campaign is based on dissatisfaction, rightly or wrongly, with Mr. Miller’s last term.

    Mr. Pantalone, as Deputy Mayor during that term, is the inevitable lightning rod for that anger. While I support his candidacy wholeheartedly, it is likely that Mr. Pantalone’s emergence as the prime challenger to Mr. Ford will help bring out more of the Etobicoke councilor’s supporters.

  10. Thanks Andrea for sticking up for democracy. It makes me crazy when so-called experts call for candidates to step aside – as if voters can’t make grown-up choices for themselves. Joe Pantalone is not stealing anyone’s votes. He is earning his own. The fact that Smitherman has blown a huge lead would make one think that there would be calls for him to bow out, and let others be the alternative to Ford. That seems like a more logical argument.

  11. Here’s a thought for the “anyone but Ford” side…
    First candidate to propose approaching the Province to request de-amalgamation (as was successfully done in Montreal) wins. There will always be a rift between the inner suburbs (whose citizens have far more in common with 905ers) and the old City of Toronto. The things that people living in the outer 416 want, are generally incompatible with how downtowners see things. They hate Miller like we hate Ford. It’s time to end this dysfunctional relationship and go back to the previous model. This, I believe, could be the kind of big-picture initiative that could fundamentally alter the course of this mayoralty campaign.

  12. So the whole throw the bums out/protest/Tea Party thing has now hit both Toronto and New York full force. In Toronto it is seen in the Ford lead over Smitherman et al, and in New York we now have an election for governor with a buffoonish loudmouth surprise candidate looking to win angry suburban votes over a liberal, urban effete who is too connected to past administrations and somehow can’t get people to like him. Sound familiar?

    I don’t think this “movement” is going to end until it burns itself out in every possible election in North America. Sigh.

  13. If we had single transferable vote when selecting Mayor, we wouldn’t have these problems with split votes for or against anyone.

    If people spent as much time campaigning for electoral reform as they did worrying about the problems cause by our electoral system, we’d have a much better democracy.

  14. I think Pantalone should talk about anything – ANYTHING – other than environment/transit for the rest of the campaign. There have been enough polls done to show the people he isn’t reaching, and reiterating that he’s the green guy isn’t going to reach any of them.

  15. The latest poll showed 45% have Ford as their first choice, and a FURTHER 19% have ford as their second choice.

    That means that some people will sooner vote for Ford than Joe (or could it be they would sooner vote for Ford than George?)

    The main thing is, whoever is to be the real contender to Ford needs to pick up a HUGE block, and that includes some Ford-swing voters.

  16. Smitherman seems to be losing momentum, while Pants has gained it.

    If Pants surpasses Smitherman as the non-ford candidate then I imagine he’ll gain a lot of momentum just there. There is definitely a Not-Smitherman movement out there too. Pants never lost a billion dollars.

  17. Joe’s had some flaws in my view eg. the Pantalone Parkway/Front St. Ext, that he’s still trying to get the local road done for c. $60M? He has wanted to “complete the grid” but for cars, and less so to not for bikes. Where are the timid bits of the Bike Plan and the West End bikeways projects that were OKed by Council last August? It’s only been a year, so I guess it’s our fault for having expectations.
    Is it maybe more important to focus on the Ward races though, as the Mayor is only one of 45, despite Miller concentrating more power in that offfice.

  18. I totally prefer Pantalone for mayor over Smitherman yet when I got a call from a polling company I said I’d vote for Smitherman since at the time it seemed he had the best chance of beating Ford and I think any of the others would be better than Ford. However seeing the upswing in Pantalone’s numbers I’m back to supporting him, maybe if Smitherman continues downward he’ll drop out and Pantalone will emerge as the Ford slayer.

    I don’t support full de-amalgamation since to me it only makes sense to have York and East York as part of Toronto but to cut loose North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke, mind you I think south Etobicoke would be a good fit in Toronto since its a much more urban part of Etobicoke than the suburban north end of the city. I’d also support splitting the city in two instead of going back to the old cities, split along a north – south line, the north end being more suburban has more in common with each other right from north Etobicoke to Scarborough while the south end is much more urban in nature including south Etobicoke right across to the southern edge of Scarborough. Then we could have a Toronto, and a North Toronto and each would be much happier I’m sure.