No incumbent, who will win heated contest?
(Written for Town Crier Oct. 15)
It’s shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested council races in town: Toronto-Danforth’s Ward 29.
It’s got everything: no incumbent, a former councillor as candidate and a party-backed star candidate.
Case Ootes, who’s held the ward for almost 22 years, is not seeking re-election. Six candidates in total are vying for the job: Jane Pitfield, Jennifer Wood, Mary Fragedakis, John Richardson, Mike Restivo and Chris Caldwell.
Pitfield has the advantage in the final stretch of the campaign, said Ryerson political professor Mitch Kosny.
Pitfield was an East York school trustee from 1994 to 1997 and then elected councillor in Don Valley West until 2006 when she made an unsuccessful bid to be mayor of Toronto.
“Jane Pitfield is running again and quite a few people think she’s the incumbent,” said professor Kosny, who lives in the ward.
This means Pitfield already has an advantage of sorts: she’s armed with political experience and name recognition in a race with no incumbent.
But this is by no means a one-horse race.
Backed by some heavy-hitting New Democrat Party politicians, Mary Fregedakis is making a big push for the ward. Federal NDP leader and Toronto-Danforth MP Jack Layton, and local MPPs Peter Tabuns and Michael Prue have endorsed her.
It’s no secret the NDP covet this ward as they not only represent the area federally and provincially, but currently have left-leaning councillors in the surrounding areas with Sandra Bussin, Paula Fletcher and Janet Davis.
The NDP came close to taking the Ward 29 seat in the 2006 race when they campaigned hard for Diane Alexopoulos, who lost by 20 votes to Councillor Ootes.
Fragedakis is co-owner of a marketing conference business and vice-president of the Broadview Community Youth Group. With a political science degree, she was born and raised in the area and lives in the ward.
But having the NDP backing and being a local resident doesn’t guarantee a win for Fragedakis, said Kosny.
“You’d think if the NDP could get it together, it should be a cakewalk to get a local rep in. But they haven’t gotten it together,” he said.
“I don’t know if the NDP factor was why it was so close (in 2006) or was it that people were tired of Case.”
And don’t dismiss candidate Jennifer Wood in this race, Kosny said.
“If you could win it based on a resume, she has a nice package. She is sharp. She gets it and she has the right kind of stuff, cares about people. But it’s not a job interview,” he said. “As a first-time candidate can she galvanize enough support?”
Wood might have a better chance if Pitfield wasn’t running, he adds.
“It is a three horse race but two of the three have a better shot. Mary (Fragedakis) and Jane (Pitfield) will have more going for them,” he said.
Wood is a lawyer, also has a Bachelor of Science degree and has endorsements from current councillors Karen Stintz, Denzil Minnan-Wong and others. A soccer coach, Wood lives in the ward and is raising her young family here. She teaches Sunday school in the area and has volunteered with a number of organizations.
While Kosny said a candidate should run in the ward they live in, it likely won’t be the deciding factor in this case.
There are three others in the race.
Chris Caldwell just next to Ward 29. He registered Jan. 4 the first day of nominations before Ootes announced his retirement. The business analyst and consultant has an urban planning background. He’s pushing for better citizen engagement in planning issues and city hall decision making in general as well as a big focus on striking a balance for social, environmental and financial progress.
Life-long Ward 29 resident Mike Restivo has deep roots in the area. His parents used to have a local grocery store in the ward called S. Restivo and Son where he worked for a decade until 1980 when he became a technician and designed his own computer programs. He also has a degree specializing in social and political philosophy, ethics and religion. Restivo’s big election priorities are making the TTC more profitable and lowering property taxes.
Candidate John Richardson would consider privatizing garbage and wants to see greater investment in transit. The part-time lawyer runs seminars for university students preparing for the next stage of their lives. He’s lived in the ward for 26 years and wants to help residents feel more connected to city government.
Kosny’s analysis seems to be based strictly on how the candidates appear on paper with no consideration to the mood of the electorate. Everything he says would have been true six months ago, but much has changed since then. There’s a strong appetite for a change away from city hall insiders, and that hurts Pitfield, who looks and sounds like an old-school politician. That she lives outside the ward is another handicap in this election, because she necessarily appears detached and aloof–the opposite of what people seem to want this time around.
Mary Fragedakis’s NDP connection may give her a party organization to rely on, but it’s also an image problem when the party is so closely associated with an unpopular mayor. She has also been unimpressive in the all-candidates meetings, and her promotional materials are the weakest of the three.
I am a Jennifer Wood supporter, and there are some fairly clear signs of election momentum in her favour: The Toronto Star’s endorsement of Wood yesterday, for one. Jane Pitfield’s likely involvement in and reaction to the Rita Smith e-mail suggests she sees Wood as a threat, as does Pitfield’s endorsement page, where her team does some sneaky editing to misrepresent the Star’s comments as endorsing her.
Martin, thanks for your insight into this race and disclosing your choice in this election so people know where you stand on candidates. One of the reason’s I spoke to political prof Kosny is he is also a Ward 29 resident and I believe he also moderated a Ward 29 all-candidate’s debate. Let me know any other thoughts on this race. Kris