Choice? WHAT Choice?

Last month, a co-worker sent me a Facebook invitation to join a group called “Torontonians AGAINST mayoral candidate Rob Ford”.

Next to the name was a caricature (where from, I’m not sure) of a fat, Buddha-breasted, red-faced, crying likeness of Rob Ford, wearing a diaper, sitting in a crib.

Under the “Info” tab was a selection of things this man has let spout from his lips in the last several years, none of it particularly mayor-like or respectful.

In a sense this, for me, was a personal indication of the tidal wave of things I was about to read – in newspapers and online – about Mr. Ford.

In recent weeks, Heather Mallick has made her opinions known about Mr. Ford in her Toronto Star columns, including this column from last Monday. Ditto Christopher Hume, from an urban affairs perspective.

Over at The Globe and Mail, Marcus Gee has weighed in, as has Christie Blatchford – the dissenting voice in this quartet.

And let’s not forget other publications, such as NOW Magazine and Eye Weekly – who made Ford’s now-seemingly unstoppable steamroller of a mayoral campaign its cover story two Thursdays ago (titled “Night-Mayor!”).

(To be fair, Web sites such as Torontoist, BlogTO and OpenFile have been covering the Race to be Mayor in their own styles, including profiles of fringe candidates. But I’m certainly they’re more than aware of the latest developments.)

On top of which, there’s THIS Web site, created “for the residents and supporters of Toronto, who are concerned and alarmed at the prospect of Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto! We have created this resource so that folks can get a better understanding of the Ford problem and feel more comfortable with the alternative options available.”

So, from what I’ve read, the two overarching themes I’ve caught (rightly or wrongly) are:

(1) If I vote for Rob Ford, I’m not in my right mind (or have had part of it removed).

(2) The way this mayoral race is going, it’s increasingly becoming a matter of when this guy’s election, not if, whether I vote for him or not.

Okay, noted. But, with less than a month to go before voting day … who else IS there to vote for?

Aside from Ford, there are currently four other mainstream candidates currently running for public office. All still say they’re in it to win it.

While I am in no way, shape or form a fan of Mr. Ford, I haven’t really been attracted to what the others have to offer.

And what little I’ve read about the candidates’ debates, it hasn’t terribly inspiring. The impression I’ve gotten is, if they’re not going after Rob Ford, the candidates are spouting ideas that – if not completely ridiculous, aren’t really financially feasible, or are really small-potatoes or not fully formed. Perhaps this isn’t really the case. But it’s not looking good.

One editorial, on Toronto Life’s Web site, made mention of the fact that “voters in the suburbs are just like voters downtown” in their united anger – and therefore, support behind Ford.

I realize the point of the blurb was to discuss how downtown voters are backing Ford as much as “the suburbs”. But two points to make on this:

Number one: Um, what? Of COURSE voters in the suburbs are just like voters downtown. They should be – they’ve been part of the megacity for 12 years now! Too bad city council – or, for that matter, anyone south of Bloor, between Dufferin and Parliament – isn’t paying attention to that fact.

Number two: Um, wait, really? BOTH uptown and downtown voters are united behind Rob Ford? I honestly wonder how true that statement is. Do suburbanites REALLY support Rob Ford as the local press suggests?

To use an example: Scarborough, where I currently live, has a population of 602,575 (according to the 2006 census). That’s what, more than a quarter of the entire downtown population alone? And the geography takes up about a hulking third of megacity Toronto’s geography. And yet, the services provided aren’t exactly stellar. They’re strained. And I’m willing to bet it’s not just like this in my neck of the woods.

I really haven’t seen so much as a poster bearing Mr. Ford’s image ’round these parts. But if he’s gotten support from people up here, they aren’t showing it.

In fact, the only candidate that has even bothered to get one of their volunteers drop campaign literature into our mailbox literature is Joe Pantalone, who is sitting in the bottom three, along with mayoral rivals Sarah Thomson and Rocco Rossi.

Even though my mother – a newly-minted septugenarian, who has made it clear she won’t even be voting – scoffed at the bookmark-sized piece of recycled cardboard and tossed it aside, I give him a half a point for trying.

But this is also part and parcel of where my voter apathy lies. Sure, come election time, our parts of town get incrementally more interest. But that aside, why on earth should I be convinced that Rob Ford, George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi or any of the other candidates are going to give a flying fig if I vote for them, and if they get elected?

So as the days grind forward and the municipal election draws nearer, there are two clear camps: the people who don’t care and won’t be voting on election day (because they figure things won’t change), and those who are genuinely worried that who gets elected could determine whether this city moves forward, or if it grinds to a halt in terms of infrastructure, function and ideas, over the next four years.

I wonder, though. If Rob Ford does what most people fear, and somehow manages to take the reins of this city, will he actually be able to do the damage that people say he’s capable of doing? Will ideas and projects grind to a halt? Will we be completely screwed?

Or will we as citizens have to work that much harder to find our own ways to keep the wellspring of ideas flowing, and to keep this city from completely crumbling?

*Image courtesy of Brett Lamb – taken from Glad Hand, Torontoist’s weekly political cartoon.

**Post script: Sarah Thomson officially dropped out of the mayor’s race Sept. 28, thereby narrowing the field down to four candidates … and slightly dating this post. But I still stand by what I’ve said.