A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] “A matter of respect: how Rob Ford swept into City Hall”

Edward Keenan has long commented in eye weekly about the appeal of Rob Ford. In his latest common, Keenan makes the point that Ford won–with a record turnout–likely because he seemed more respectful of the majority of Torontonians than his competitors.

Some of the lessons for progressives are purely tactical: Ford’s campaign learned much from Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign of 2008 — using telephone town halls to build a database and personalizing the campaign for supporters, and taking his message to every corner of the city much more effectively than any of his opponents. The clarity and consistency of his message — thought to be signs of that very unsophistication hated by the establishment — also sends a message about what works during elections.

But more importantly, there’s a message about the way politics works — or more often, doesn’t — in a sprawling, diverse, amalgamated Toronto. Rob Ford summed his attitude up with the slogan “Respect for Taxpayers,” a phrase that spoke directly to many voters’ concerns. But substitute the word “citizens” for “taxpayers” and you have a message any city-building progressive would also do well to embrace.

Those in drive-through country at the northern edges of Scarborough and Etobicoke are Torontonians just as much as those who live at Queen and Beaconsfield. As we see, their votes count every bit as much, but they’re also wrestling with real concerns about diversity and sprawl and transportation and poverty. Too often, the approach of urbane downtowners has been to consider the inner suburbs to be forgettable or second-rate, and to see primarily suburban concerns as unworthy of serious debate.

Not only is that sort of approach disrespectful and — as Ford has shown — electorally dangerous, it is also the opposite of progressive. Unlike the white middle-class conformists that populate the nostalgic suburbs of our imaginations, North York and Etobicoke and Scarborough are home to most of our new immigrants and a substantial number of our poorest residents. Those Torontonians live in areas unsuited to delivering the services they require, places poorly served by transit, places where schools and shops are generally unreasonably long walks away from home, and they live there largely because that’s where they can afford to live. Many of them work very hard to make car payments because the car makes their working life viable. Many are just scraping by.

When those people hear drivers referred to as greedy know-nothing polluters, it must sting. When those people hear residents of largely white, middle-class neighbourhoods like the Beaches and the Annex trumpet diversity and sneer at supposed suburban small-mindedness, it must seem idiotic. When questions about $50,000 expense accounts and $11,000 parties and raises on $100,000 salaries are dismissed as small potatoes, it must seem galling.

[. . .]

That detachment and dismissiveness by the city’s creative class — real or perceived — is wrong-headed. And it’s likely that much of what resonated about Rob Ford’s Regular-Joe message was the perception of genuine respectfulness for the concerns of those who felt left out of the city over the past seven years.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm

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