Toronto is going to the polls on October 25, 2010. Over the course of the campaign we’ll be sitting down with as many of the candidates as we can, asking them to tell us in their own words why they are seeking public office and what they hope to accomplish if elected.
Adam Giambrone speaking at an art show, September 2009.
Adam Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport) is still determinedly playing coy about his intentions (though really he isn’t), but all signs point to him running for mayor. His campaign formally launches on Monday, and we sat down with him today for to talk about his track record and get a sneak peak at the priorities which might shape his campaign.
Torontoist: Let’s start with the most obvious question. Can you confirm that you’re running for mayor?
Giambrone: All I can confirm is that we’re going to have a party and will make an announcement on Monday.
You released a video yesterday. What messages were you hoping to convey with it?
I have a persona—and I think it’s true—of somebody who’s very serious. The Globe‘s called me a technocrat at times, the word ‘earnest’ has come up. I take my job as the chair of the TTC, as councillor representing fifty thousand in Davenport, very seriously, but on the other hand I think that once in a while you do have to have a bit of a sense of humour and step back and take a look at some other aspects of the race. One of those aspects is about how you communicate with Torontonians, how you engage more people.
There are policies, and those are very important: you want to have candidates who have thought through the challenges the city has and how they’re going to respond to those challenges, what their plans are, how they think they’re going to go about doing it—that’s all important. We’re going to have a lot of time to talk about issues over the next eight or nine months, and a lot of them a lot sooner than that, because people are going to want to hear real ideas, real solutions. And, also, it’s always interesting what a candidate identifies as the issues, not just the solutions, because that identification speaks to a value set and speaks to a way of thinking.
But one of the things we’ve heard in the city is that people want to be more engaged: they want to get more information, they want to interact with their city government in different ways. Over the last couple of years I’ve been beginning to communicate differently. We’ve always got the newsletters, emails—all of those things are pretty common. In the last couple of years I’ve tried to branch out in terms of the use of social media as a way of communicating differently. YouTube, while it isn’t new at all, offers a different vehicle to communicate an idea and get out there. I think government should do a better job of actually communicating with people. People want to have access to politicians, they want to interact; I do that on Facebook and Twitter today, and so communicating with YouTube is really just a natural extension.
As someone who’s currently a councillor and has been a councillor for a while what’s your sense of what Torontonians’ biggest concerns are? What are they going to be looking for in this campaign?
I think we’re hearing from a lot of Torontonians about a desire to see how the city’s positioned over the next five years. There’s a real sense that we have to take a big step to make sure that we’re [making] the investments in the city that are needed to prepare ourselves for everything from the Pan-Am to just being the city we want to be. I’ll have a lot more details to talk about on Monday, about what I have heard people talking about and where I think we need to go.
Giambrone speaking at a Clean Train Coalition rally, September 2009.
What do you think have been the biggest successes and the biggest failures of David Miller’s administration?
This city has really changed over the last seven years, and I think a lot of the positives have been accentuated. Now this city as viewed as a leader internationally as a green city, it has the largest transit expansion in North America, the largest light rail expansion in the world, and people are beginning to notice.
Toronto is being put on the map for a lot of good reasons, and I think what you’re hearing from people is that they want to see those things continue, but they also want to see even more action. Torontonians have very high expectations of what they want to see. They are proud of their city and they want to see it do well; they want to see it take bold action for the future.
If anything, people have been critical about not going far enough. You hear this about this transit expansion. [People] say, “Well it’s great that you’re doing this—we need to do more, faster.” And it’s true when you talk about accomplishments in the arts or the equity agenda, you talk about investments in priority neighbourhoods, all very good things. What you hear consistently from a majority of Torontonians is…they want to see more of it. If anything, people have said “we just want more action, we want more investment, we want more improvement.”
One of the ways Torontonians outside your ward have come to know you is obviously in your capacity as chair of the TTC. There’s been, especially of late, a great deal of criticism of the TTC. What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your time as chair?
I think the TTC has allowed me to show that I do know how to run a large organization. ([Although,] I’m not in charge of day-to-day operations at the TTC.)
The TTC has huge challenges: it is a massively underfunded organization that attempts to respond to Torontonians’ expectations around quality of service, reliability of service. The TTC is far from perfect, there is no question—there is nobody who knows that better than someone who has never owned a car in Toronto and has to get to meetings in Scarborough, in North York, in Etobicoke, all over… I see what the people in the city go through every day.
I think it goes back to the the fact that people want more, they want improvements. They see what’s happened, and they’re happy with it: when we’ve brought in expansion they were happy, when we changed how we use added technology [they were happy]. Of course, next week we launch the trip planner, that’ll be part of it. There’s more coming: next vehicle information by the summer, we’ve been working on that for a couple of years. You look at improvements in service: the largest service increase in the history of the TTC went in in 2008. There’s a lot of things, and people say “yeah, that’s great, but we want more.” And that’s fine. Torontonians need to push their civic leaders—they need to push the province and feds—to continue both expansion and improvements.
I think Torontonians will have varying degrees of opinions on the TTC; they’ll judge me partially on that… I believe in really strong investment in public transit—there has to be more. We are the most underfunded transit authority on this continent, I think, and it shows.
What do you think are the most important qualities that a mayor needs to possess?
I think a mayor has to have an ability to work with others, to listen, to get other people to work cooperatively together, because one person can’t do it all. This is a city of three million people, it’s got all the challenges we’ve talked about, and the mayor’s got to know when to get the right person in to do the job, and to be able to go out and ask for help and bring people in. They need to be able to build a pretty broad team.
It’s not like the federal or provincial governments where you’ve got a bureaucracy that reports directly to cabinet, basically, that has cabinet solidarity. This sort of municipal government is much more open, much more transparent, and so the mayor has to be able to be a much better communicator, and that’s talking about how you communicate with stakeholders, citizens, voters, all of that… You’ve got to have perspectives from all over. Scarborough’s a very different place than North York or Etobicoke or the downtown. Cabbagetown is different from the Annex.
I think that if the mayor is smart the mayor will listen to people, will get different perspectives, and then ultimately try to chart a course on some sort of consensus. At times the mayor is going to have to stand up strongly for what he or she believes in. You’ve got to know when it’s appropriate to stand up on principle—there are some things that are right and some things that are wrong—but a lot of things require that building of consensus and that’s how you get through Council. You have to respect that there are forty-four individual councillors, they are democratically elected by their constituents, they represent their different views, and it’s not an autocratic state.
Photos from Giambrone’s Facebook page.