My Pragmatic Choice – Rocco Rossi for Mayor

Over the last few months, I have been volunteering for the Rocco Rossi mayoral campaign. I have participated in fund raising events, attended community events and been a part of the social media campaign. Given the status of Rocco in the polls, perhaps it is worthwhile – if only for myself – to elucidate the reasons for my support.

Let me provide some overview for those who do not know my views. I am not sure that I am an average voter, whatever that might be. I see myself as a pragmatist, wanting to glean the best ideas from multiple inputs. I am a member of the Liberal party but not a koolaid drinker. My support is not automatic. I want to hear ideas that make sense to this long-time project management expert. I want to know that the ideas and the candidates pass the smell test.

I knew of Rocco Rossi by reputation through the Liberal party. Frankly, I knew little of him. During that time, I was not enamored of the party’s ideas and had stepped back from participation. My first indication that he was running for mayor was from a close friend who was a part of Rossi’s team. He called me and asked if I would help him with an event and meet the candidate. Like any friend, I told him I would help for his benefit and that I would be open to listening to the candidate’s ideas.

At that first event, I helped with logistics. I had the opportunity to meet with and listen to Rocco. I listened to his presentation, frankly expecting the worst. Most political speeches I hear are, at best, not worth the time. So I expected another ill-spoken, emotional, strident, call to action. Interestingly, my expectations were not met.

Rocco started with the idea of focusing on a small number of key goals and he defined them.

1. Manage the City’s Finances – Rocco talked about better long term planning and review of spending policies and processes.

2. Get Toronto Moving – Talking about more transit and less gridlock is an apple pie issue in the mayoral campaign. Rocco actually put forth ideas about how he might work with council to fund new subway growth. I am not 100% sure I agree with all his ideas but I think he is moving in the right direction.

3. Attract New Business – Rocco talked of drawing business back into the GTA. But he set our competition not as our neighbours (i.e., Vaughan, Markham, Mississauga) but as Chicago, New York and other world cities. He talked of Toronto’s municipal government being a help, not a hindrance, to business setting up in our city. And he did not talk about having to reduce taxes and bribe new businesses to come here.

Rocco appealed to my experience in delivering large, successful projects. His ideas had threads of transparency, cooperation, rational discussion, focus and deliberation – essentially, he talked of good governance.

I listened carefully for some red flags.

The first and biggest was talking as if Toronto had a strong mayor system. The mayor is but one member of a large council. A mayor who acts as if he or she is the president will find themselves unable to get anything done. Rocco talked about using moral suasion to work on his key priorities while other items were open to the best ideas from any source.

I was also listening to a kneejerk call to reduce taxes. This seems to be a recurring theme from candidates of all stripes. To me, it seems ridiculous, at least in the short term. Years of neglect have left Toronto with a massive amount of work needed to even keep the status quo. Rocco talked about better planning and resource utilization.

Finally, I listed for the symbolic stuff. I expected to hear about individual samples of misspending and how if we corrected those, everything would be fine. Rocco did discuss some spending silliness but related those to the need for better planning and process. He did not try to sell the idea that if we reduced council’s expense accounts we could go back to twice a week garbage collection.

Rocco talked about his love of Toronto and his immigrant background. In his story, I recognized my own parent’s and grandparent’s story of coming to Canada and building a life.

I have since had the time to talk with Rocco at greater length. I have also had the opportunity to review the platforms of the other candidates and to meet some. While I don’t agree with every detail of Rocco’s platform, I see him as the best, most pragmatic, choice to lead our city.

I hope that Toronto can experience an election campaign which matches its personality – polite and respectful. I believe that once people hear all the candidates, they will agree that Rocco Rossi is the best choice for Mayor of Toronto in 2010.