Adam Giambrone, off-stage before delivering his speech at his mayoral campaign launch on February 1. Photo by David Topping/Torontoist.
Most of us woke up this morning to the news that TTC chair and mayoral candidate Adam Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport) was apologizing for an “inappropriate relationship” he had been having for the past year or so with a young woman who was not his live-in partner. Reaction has covered all the usual talking points, with competing choruses of Who cares about politicians’ personal lives? and How can someone who’d betray his partner be trusted to run the city? playing out in newspaper comment sections and coffee shops across the city.
If history is any guide, there is little correlation between a politician’s personal life and his or her ability to lead. There have been bad faithful politicians and great adulterous ones, just as there have been politicians who have been both successful and faithful and others who have failed on both counts at once. We all would prefer our leaders to be unimpeachable in every respect, but not a single one ever has been and not a single one ever will be. Nor should it be the media’s job to hunt down and publish every last vagary of a public figure’s personal life.
It is reasonable for voters to rely on all available information in assessing a candidate’s worthiness for office, and to debate what of that information is relevant to making the assessment. It will be up to Torontonians to decide, over the course of this election cycle, who has on balance the strengths they most want and the weaknesses they are most willing to live with.
What is, however, quite striking about this situation is what it reveals about our political culture. Specifically, it highlights that we seem somehow still attached to the notion of the political spouse. Right or wrongly, it appears that Giambrone felt his candidacy would benefit from him having a partner by his side. He is young, he is contemporary, he represents a generational shift in the political life of our city. And yet…
We have no interest in speculating on the particulars of Giambrone’s personal relationships, we do not yet know how much of the report published today will stand, and we have no idea what further details might emerge. We are seeking neither to exculpate nor to condemn Giambrone—the most any of us can and should do is decide whether or not to vote for him. But we need to move, as a society, past the antiquated and entirely misguided notion that there is one right model of a life, much less a family life, that befits a candidate for public office. If, as the Star reported, Giambrone really did describe his relationship with his live-in partner as “important for the campaign,” that is a tragic reflection of a political culture that is mired in a hidebound and exclusionary conception of what our leaders ought to be. Whatever else may or may not be true, it is deeply unfortunate that our political culture still exerts such pressures, and deeply unfortunate that Giambrone fell prey to them.