Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ford Allies: Choose Your Archetype

"Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn't set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to make a choice. You know that. You've made a choice, and you know how much it cost you. There is always a price."

-Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

Choices make or break politicians. Those decisions can be purely based on policies, politics or a mix of the two. For Ford allies at City Hall their choices are becoming more clear and stark, and we may soon arrive at a juncture with the upcoming budget.

There are two different paths for Ford allies, embodied by Giorgio Mammoliti and Karen Stintz.

Giorgio Mammoliti
Mammoliti is the id of the Ford administration. To use Freud’s definition, he is a chaotic cauldron of seething excitations filled with instinctual energy but has no organization, produces no collective will and contrary impulses exist side by side without cancelling each other out.

There’s no shortage of examples to choose from to illustrate this (including red-baiting, dyke march video-taping and proposing a brothel on the island and North America’s largest flagpole as a tourist attraction). Mammoliti is so ridiculous that some people I respect suggest it’s counter-productive to focus attention on him. After all, energy expended on him is energy that could be focused on Ford’s agenda or persuading the mushy middle. I follow the ‘don’t feed the troll’ logic; after all no  one is going to shame Mammoliti into changing his position, criticism of him has the unfortunate side effect of legitimizing his authority and attention is exactly what he wants.

I think that would be a fine response if he was a fringe councillor but he's not. He is Ford’s voice (and thumb), given full license to articulate positions and policies and the leadership of various reports. He is a principal spokesperson for the administration not due to his nuanced understanding of policies and challenges but because he is fiercely loyal to Team Ford.

As a chosen proxy for the administration, Mammoliti represents who they are. In that way, Mammoliti provides a useful shorthand for the distempered desires of Team Ford. He is worth focusing on if it is to link his messages and style as a distillation of the administration at large. Councillors should question whether they want to support his antics by extension or follow a different route.

Karen Stintz 
That different route is embodied by TTC chair Karen Stintz. Stintz, a competent conservative elected in a ward that overwhelmingly went for George Smitherman, is in a difficult spot (read this Marcus Gee piece for more).
Stintz has strong reservations about the viability and wisdom of Ford’s promised Sheppard extension. Since the beginning of the project, Stintz has insisted she has nothing to do with it and is seldom in contact with Rob Ford (in contrast to Mammoliti with Ford or then-TTC Chair Adam Giambrone with David Miller).

Doug Ford in particular has a cold relationship with Stintz to the extent that he has explored a wholesale change at the TTC to oust her and TTC General Manager Gary Webster in one fell swoop. Stintz has publicly declared her support for Webster, a 30-year TTC veteran who also opposes the Sheppard subway plan.  

Stintz is widely seen as competent, thoughtful and capable- the ego to Mammoliti’s id. Unfortunately, it’s precisely these qualities that have got in the way of expressing the loyalty that Team Ford values so highly. Her opposition to the foolish Sheppard subway line, grounded in a belief that it does not make sense from a fiscal or transit building perspective highlights that Stintz is willing to value policy decisions over politics.     

Defined by Choices 
But this is punished. While Mammoliti is given more rope by Team Ford—he was assigned a host of different reports to deliver to Council (on homelessness, childcare, ice rinks), Stintz is frozen out. It sends a clear message to other Ford allies to not argue against priorities and to support the talking points.

But these Ford allies should ask what kind of councillor they want to be. Do they want to be like Mammoliti, whose unconditional loyalty and silly antics are rewarded with power from Ford? Or are they willing to be like Karen Stintz, a thoughtful and competent councillor willing to question ideas and policies when she feels it’s necessary?

As cracks within the Ford administration appear councillors will have to choose whether they are more like Mammoliti or Stintz. Hopefully more people like Stintz are willing to stand up for what they think is right  despite the Mammolitiesque rhetoric and cold shoulder from Ford that they will receive.  

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