Giambrone speaking at his campaign launch party Monday night.
Adam Giambrone began outlining his vision for Toronto last night, in the speech he gave at his packed-to-the-rafters campaign launch party at Revival. Though it was short on details (such inaugural speeches of necessity always are), it became clear that Giambrone is positioning himself as the heir to David Miller, and that the first and most important task of Giambrone’s mayoralty would be to secure the future of many of the projects and principles that marked Miller’s time in office.
This, we can safely predict, will lead to much shouting and wringing of hands.
While Giambrone taking up Miller’s mantle will almost certainly lead to a great deal of knee-jerk criticism, it is also a very reasonable basis on which to run. Miller has detractors aplenty, and his administration has been far from perfect. That said, Miller has been responsible, in the aftermath of amalgamation and of Mel Lastman, for giving us back our optimism, our faith that municipal government can go beyond small-minded parochialism, that it can have aspirations and ambitions on a grand scale. (This is why we remain convinced that history will be much kinder to Miller than recent polling numbers are.)
There are many people who disagree with David Miller’s priorities, and many more who take issue with his track record at implementing them, but almost nobody doubts that he has been a mayor worth taking seriously. The policies and projects for which Miller is most known and most responsible, and which Giambrone supports—Transit City, Mayor’s Tower Renewal, TAVIS (the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy), working on priority neighbourhoods—befit a city trying to better itself. Whether they are the best tools for the job or not, Miller’s administration has most of all been characterized by a fundamental shift in our public discourse, toward city-building and away from the idea that government necessarily and inevitably gets in the way of accomplishment.
The question, therefore, is not whether Miller’s vision for the city is a basis on which it is worth running for mayor. It is whether Adam Giambrone is up to that task.
The answer to that is: maybe.
On the plus side, Giambrone is tireless and brimful of conviction, patient with his detractors and eager to increase civic engagement. One of his major themes yesterday—and one of the key ways in which Giambrone committed to initiatives that go beyond Miller-era projects—is voting reform. Giambrone came out in favour of extending the vote to landed immigrants, as well as a host of other measures (including internet voting) aimed at widening the pool of Torontonians who engage in municipal politics. It is a conversation we as a city sorely need to have, and it is to Giambrone’s credit that he included the issue prominently in his first speech. Giambrone also possesses the crucial virtue of not being interested in change merely for the sake of change—a real challenge in an election year when everyone wants to know how you’ll be different from the guy who sat in the chair before you. He rightly rejects fear-mongering and scapegoating, and indulges in far fewer attacks than do his rivals.
On the minus side are real and deep questions about Giambrone’s ability to wield power in Council, set management priorities, and ensure that policy gets implemented effectively.
Though little has been said in the media thus far on the first count, and it isn’t the sort of thing people tend to talk about during campaigns, the ability to whip a vote is essential for effective governance. Giambrone is not known as a power-broker on the current council: unlike David Miller there is no indication as of yet that he would be able to marshal essential middle-of-the-road councillors to vote in his favour on key items. (Giambrone’s youth is a red herring—it is his lack of authority that is the real problem.)
As for his ability to manage management, well, that is what we can call The TTC Problem. Giambrone has taken, of late, to pointing out that the chair of the TTC isn’t responsible for daily operations; the chair’s job is to provide policy direction, while management is charged with implementing these policy directives effectively. This is true, but it is only a partial accounting. It is also the chair’s job to ensure that those in charge of operations are managing effectively, and to take remedial action if they are not. On this count Giambrone has failed. He has been right to trumpet Transit City as both ambitious and essential, and to keep reiterating the depth and breadth of our need for an expanded transit system. Unfortunately, Giambrone has also come to be seen as something of an infrastructure fetishist, so concerned with expansion of the system that he is unable to focus on riders’ frustrations with their current transit experience.
If Giambrone is to succeed in his bid for mayor he will need (among other things): union backing, some quick turnaround at the TTC (where he is staying on as chair for the moment), and Rocco Rossi to bleed support away from Smitherman. That’s campaign strategy 101. But if Giambrone is to persuade more than his natural baseline of 15-18% of voters to support him, he will also need to make us believe that he can be…mayoral.
Giambrone has the heart, and he has the right intentions. Now he needs to convince us that he can channel them effectively.
Photos by David Topping/Torontoist.