One week before election day, Eye Weekly and Spacing magazine give you a chance to meet Jane Pitfield and David Miller

Three years ago, David Miller rode his broom into the mayor of Toronto’s office on a wave of optimism inspired by his clear-thinking, neighbourhood-minded campaign. Back then, the ballot-box question (as political strategists put it) was, “what kind of city do you want to live in?” Miller’s answer – cities are for people, not airplanes; city hall should invite citizens not lobbyists – carried the day.

As we head back to the polls at the end of Miller’s first term in office, the relevant question comes in two parts: do you think Miller has adequately delivered on his promise of a cleaner (metaphorically and physically) city? And if not, do you think it is possible that Jane Pitfield, Miller’s only serious opponent, could do a better job?

Readers of Eye Weekly and Spacing magazine will get a chance to see the candidates up close to attempt to get answers to those questions on Nov. 6 at Revival in Little Italy, at an event billed The Political Party. There, Jane Pitfield and David Miller will outline competing visions for Toronto’s public spaces, addressing the issues ranging from transit to the waterfront to the spread of advertising in civic squares. Following their speeches, the candidates will face questions from a panel of Eye Weekly and Spacing contributors. And after that, there’ll be live music by New York–Toronto glam rockers Hot One (featuring Toronto’s Emm Gryner and Shudder to Think veteran Nathan Larson) as the candidates mingle with the crowd. It’s a unique opportunity to pin the candidates down in the final week of the race.

But about those questions:

There’s a vocal cadre of Miller’s long-time supporters who feel a palpable sense of disappointment in his first term as mayor. This sentiment was neatly summed up in stories in Toronto Life and The Globe and Mail in October (both stories were titled “Miller’s Crossing,” of course). Toronto Life writer Philip Preville put it, “As his first term comes to a close, however, it’s clear that he never quite delivered on the broad promise he embodied: that he could inspire the city with a clear vision for the future. It’s not that he hasn’t done anything; it’s just that, as mayor, he’s proven to be a visionary plumber.”

In an interview with Eye Weekly last week on a southbound subway car from Downsview, Miller says he’s puzzled by that perception. “I’ve done pretty much what I said I would. I think people put their hopes in me, and I’m very proud of that, but it’s not just about me, it’s about Toronto. And I think people share my frustration that Toronto can’t succeed the way it should until we’ve dealt with the leftovers from the Harris era, the downloading and the lack of funding. [Another] thing is, that’s not what people tell me on the street: people tell me all the time that they’re happy, keep it up – that’s the response I’m getting on the street.”

Even so, he defends his baby-steps, nuts-and-bolts approach against those who would have him focus on more transformative mega-projects.

“It’s not how you build a city and it wasn’t my vision of building a city three years ago – you don’t build monuments. You build a city neighbourhood by neighbourhood. It’s an incremental thing, and it should be,” he says. “Cities are organic, and that’s why things like the community safety plan work, because it’s about neighbourhoods and about investing in young people in neighbourhoods. That’s why Clean and Beautiful works: it’s about bringing neighbourhoods together – the businesses, the people, the city – to make the neighbourhood a more livable place, to make the public space more livable. And that’s my philosophy on how you build a city, that way. Not by monuments like Mel Lastman Square but by doing real change in real neighbourhoods with real people.”

And indeed there are no monuments in his platform this time. Miller is promising slow, surface-route growth on transit with more ambitious additions if the province will invest; his community-safety plan involves a tiny increase in investment in an existing program; he’s refused to seriously discuss taking down the Gardiner Expressway because it would be too expensive; his garbage plan involves purchasing a landfill so we can take our time and “control our own destiny.”

By contrast, Jane Pitfield is promising massive change: she wants to begin construction on subway tunnels, adding a new stop to the system every year for the next two and a half decades; she’d cancel the purchase of the landfill and speed up the process of building an incinerator (she says a six-year environmental assessment process is too long); she’d hire more police officers, sell off surplus land for development as affordable housing and hold a referendum on tearing down the Gardiner (which she says should stay, since it provides “the best view of the lake”). And all this while freezing taxes.

The biggest stumbling block – even for those who like Pitfield’s vision – is that she hasn’t adequately explained how she’ll pay for all of these promises. Her responses tend to assume an investment by the provincial and federal governments that experience tells us is unlikely to be there.

And further, in a related concern, it’s unclear whether Pitfield has the organizational and management skills to lead the city.

Throughout her campaign, Pitfield has been forced to backtrack: after announcing she’d sell Toronto Hydro, she had to clarify that she hadn’t meant it; she’s had to explain why she supported the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way and now promises to cancel it; she voted for the purchase of the Green Lane landfill by mistake. If she can’t operate the voting equipment in council chamber, the thinking goes, how can she manage the entire council and bureaucracy?

I didn’t have the opportunity to put these questions to Pitfield because, in a week and a half of back and forth negotiations, her campaign team was unable to secure me a 10-minute phone interview with the candidate (after asking – during our third conversation – how Eye Weekly is spelled, staffer Leslie Stafford suggested I might attend a debate and try to scrum Pitfield afterward).

But the question was addressed, in a way, during a televised debate earlier in the campaign. “How – h-h-how can you be mayor?” Vanessa Lu of the Toronto Star asked. After pausing, as if stunned by the audacity of the question, Pitfield answered, “I can be mayor because I have the ability – I have the heart to lead this city, and on most issues I am very decisive.”

Torontonians will have the chance to meet both candidates on Monday and make their own assessment.

Originally published November 2, 2006 in Eye Weekly