Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi told the Town Crier’s editorial board today his campaign isn’t stumbling but picking up steam.
“I think the choice is clearer and clearer,” he said at the Oct. 13 session before he later announced he’d bow out of mayoral race.
With all the other candidates, save Joe Pantalone, having released their economic platforms, Rossi said that he’s riding high on the news that the Globe & Mail,Toronto Sun, National Post and Toronto Board of Trade have all said that so far his plan is the only one that adds up and is fiscally-responsible. His plan includes eliminating Toronto’s $3 billion in debt that costs the city $450 million in payments annually by selling off Toronto Hydro, the city’s a minority share in Enwave and some surplus land.
He’s also not promising to freeze or cut property taxes as he said the city didn’t get into the revenue problem overnight so he’d not looking for a quick fix.
But while some have praised Rossi over the 10-month campaign, his polling numbers have remained low from six to 15 percent of decided voters – behind frontrunners Rob Ford and George Smitherman. In fact some city councillors such as Joe Mihevc and Shelley Carroll have called for strategic voting in order to defeat mayoral candidate Ford.
“There are people, primarily the Toronto Star, trying to push people to make this (George) Smitherman instead of Ford choice. And what I say to Torontonians is people are asking you to hold your nose and vote for someone in order to stop someone else,” said Rossi. “If you hold your noise on October 25. You better be prepared to hold your nose for four more years because this is not a good choice.”
Rossi’s troubles seemed to continue when six former volunteers with his team endorsed Smitherman. However, he brushes aside the importance of the move.
“Most of them have been gone from the campaign for months (since August.),” he said. “We’ve added lots of people. Six (losses) is no big deal when those people were not involved day to day in the campaign anymore.”
Rossi agrees with Ford on the idea of reducing the number of city councillors, although not for financial reasons, and four years down the road would like to see 22 councillors, one mayor and four district deputy mayors — all with term limits.
“I see it as way to better governance for better decision making,” he said.
Rossi said he wants to get residents more involved in planning matters in their neighbourhoods.
“The planning process will also be very different (under his leadership),” he said as the current chief planner will be stepping down this year. “The official plan gets reviewed in 2011 … We need to involve communities not just in the broad official plan but detailed secondary, neighbourhood plans.”
This wouldn’t just extend to private development, but also to city-sponsored projects like the revitalization of Lawrence Heights.
“I’m an enormous fan of Toronto Community Housing revitalization movement from Regent Park to Lawrence Heights,” said Rossi.
The problem is the Lawrence Heights plan was not communicated well.
“There’s a feeling, and Ford repeats it, that this will mean more government housing. When the fact is it will mean more government housing but the amount of government housing is about the same as today. It’s just it will bring in market rent condos as well, which will help pay for it all and provide a mix-used community,” he said.
On transit, Rossi is pushing for building two kilometres of subways a year. He is not a fan of the St. Clair right-of-way streetcar line.
“I have talked to the businesses along the way. There are a lot of people who will take years to recover from damage done to their businesses (from construction and less parking),” said Rossi. “I live just north of the right-of-way and I don’t see an improvement in gridlock.”
Speaking of gridlock, Rossi plans to study the possibility of building an underground tunnel to extend the Allen Expressway down to the Gardiner Expressway — an idea he said was put forward by two Forest Hill based engineers. While the media criticized it as a terrible idea, he said voters support it.
“The Angus Reid poll shows over 44 percent of Torontonians love the idea. In fact more people like the idea of the tunnel than like the idea of Transit City (light rail transit),” said Rossi, a former Liberal strategist who also worked on John Tory’s 2003 mayoralty bid. “Thousands of cars get dumped off at the base of the Allen at Eglinton and those cars still have to go somewhere. And they end up going through the residential communities in order to get downtown,” said Rossi. “I think people want a mayor open to at least open to other solutions (to gridlock) so let’s have a study.”
Rossi is pushing to work more closely with the school boards on issues such as pools and community centres.
“We are always saying we need more recreational facilities (for youth and seniors),” he said. “And yet the budget has to be controlled.”
He said there’s an opportunity for the school board and city to share costs such as the city paying some of the costs to run a pool or community centre, located in a school, so its also open for after school use.
“If we work together, it’s cheaper than trying to do it separately.”
Rossi is the only one of the leading candidates who has not been elected as Smitherman was an MPP, and Ford and Pantalone are both city councillors.
“I’m not as well known as my competitors,” said Rossi, who was CEO of the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Not having be in (politics) means there will be some things I will have to learn along the way. But I would argue my competitors will have to learn how to manage a large organization along the way and that’s a bigger challenge.”
This meeting finished at 4 pm just five hours BEFORE he later announced he’d step out of the mayor’s race.