The Folly of Rocco Rossi
September 29, 2010
Rocco Rossi seems to be a pretty smart guy. When you see him in debates, interviews, and speeches, he’s articulate, intelligent, and passionate. So it’s hard to understand why he’s running the most ridiculous mayoral campaign in a race that already has Rob Ford being Rob Ford.
When Rossi declared he was running for mayor, no one knew who he was. But he’d worked with successful businesses, the Liberal party and several charities, which might lead one to believe he’d be a qualified, possibly left-of-centre candidate for mayor.
But one of Rossi’s first announcements was condemning the Jarvis Bike Lanes, which certainly put him on my bad side. Not merely the opposition to the Jarvis lanes in particular, but the idea that bike lanes should be banned from all major streets, because they add to congestion of real traffic – that is to say, automobiles. Despite regularly proclaiming himself a cyclist, Rossi couldn’t grasp the idea that cyclists like arterials for the same reason drivers do: Roads like Jarvis get you where you want to go quickly and efficiently, unlike winding, stopping-and-starting side streets.
Rossi nonetheless called the plan sheer madness, predicting biblically chaotic congestion and gridlock that has yet to appear. But Rossi’s opposition to bike lanes wasn’t just about traffic congestion. No, the Jarvis bicycle lanes are an affront to democracy itself. He never explained exactly why the decision of an elected council a year and a half before an election is “undemocratic”, but redefining the nature of democracy turned out to be a big plank in his platform.
When he wasn’t busy planning to sell city assets and calling out those fatcat unions, Rossi apparently decided that Democracy means never doing anything that will bother anyone. How else to explain his proposal for voter recall of municipal politicians?
Voter recall is a nice idea in theory, but in practice puts politicians in the position of having to keep everyone happy all of the time. You think they’re wishy-washy and pandering in an election year? Voter recall makes every year an election year. Rossi wasn’t specific on how the mechanics of voter recall would work, but that’s just as well, since the mayor of Toronto has absolutely no control over municipal elections anyway.
Rossi’s targeted elected officials since day one, proudly proclaiming himself free of insider politics despite being chief fundraiser for the federal Liberal Party and manager of John Tory’s 2003 mayoral campaign. Exactly how he can claim to be politically fresh while hiring Warren Kinsella to work on his campaign is a mystery, but apparently his goal is to keep everyone politically fresh by imposing term limits on the mayor and city councillors. Term limits, like voter recall, seems like a nice idea. It’s exceptionally difficult to unseat a municipal politician, given name recognition, flexible office budgets, and voter apathy.
But rules around election spending can – and should – be changed, and term limits throw out the dedicated politicians along with the dreaded, and largely mythical, hogs at the public trough. Rossi’s campaign gives the impression of a man who thinks government should be run like a business, but I can’t think of many business that will fire an employee solely on the basis of their experience.
On September 13, Rossi dropped the real bomb of his campaign: The Toronto Tunnel, an underground highway connecting the Allen Expressway and the Gardiner. Yet another solution to gridlock that involves making more room for cars, the tunnel plan was fraught with flaws; even Rob “get those marathon runners off the streets” Ford poo-pooed the tunnel. When faced with criticism, Rossi backed down into a defensive crouch, saying all he wanted to do was study the idea, and who but car-hating socialists could be opposed to a silly little study? (Fun fact: The word “study” appears only three times in Rossi’s press release, and only in the Q&A section that was added later.)
This week, Rossi came full circle and announced his own downtown cycling network. If you live, work, and shop downtown, it’s all right: Separate and continuous lanes on St. George/Beverley, Richmond, Sherbourne, and Wellesley/Harbord. You’re out of luck if you want to go north of Harbord or east of Parliament, and while he’s done a nice job getting cyclists to the waterfront, he doesn’t seem to have any plans for the abysmal conditions on Queens Quay. But from a practical perspective, Rossi’s cycling plan is delightfully adequate.
And yet, it’s hard to care. Rossi has spent most of his campaign proudly proclaiming himself a cyclist while simultaneously insisting that cyclists only have the right to travel safely and efficiently on side streets. Which is fine, if you’re courting suburban voters who are opposed to any measure that appears to slow their commute; Rob Ford’s rocketed to the top of the charts by telling people he’ll put cyclists in ravines and rip out speed bumps. But you can’t run on a platform that promises a return to supremacy of the automobile and then hope people are happy with your leftovers.
Rossi’s clearly not stupid, and there’s no evidence to suggest that he’s clinically insane, so the only explanation for his campaign is that it’s cynical, manipulative pandering. Rossi saw the anger and disappointment people felt towards David Miller’s administration and wants to solve everyone’s problems. His solutions are bandaids, desperate attempts to curry favour with children by handing out popscicles. Fed up with traffic? Rossi will make it easier for everyone to drive their cars, which will surely ease congestion. Sick and tired of politicians who don’t do what you want all the time? With voter recall, you don’t even have to bother voting in order to kick the bums out later on. Even though his platform bears a striking similarity to that of a 1950s Republican, he’s totally socially progressive, as evidenced by the fact that he’s said so many times.
And you can trust Rossi, because he’s the only candidate who’s not a career politician, despite working in politics for much of his life. He’s just that virtuous.
Unfortunately, Rob Ford had to come along and spoil Rossi’s fun. Why would anyone vote for Rossi’s calculated anger when Rob Ford is offering the real thing? Not only has Ford spent years telling everyone how much he hates everything David Miller has done, but he’s done it in a style that makes him a real political outsider; he’s not one of those slick, smooth-talking, back-up-his-arguments-with-facts, high-fallutin’ politicians. Rossi has a better chance of becoming mayor than he does of beating out Rob Ford in an Average Man competition.
With his background and experience, Rocco Rossi might have the stuff to be a good mayor. But he’s an awful candidate, running a ludicrous campaign, and deserves to go home empty-handed on election day.