Friday, September 25, 2009

Toronto Mayor Withdraws from Office

Today, Canada’s largest city was rocked by a political announcement which took many by surprise. Two-term Toronto Mayor David Miller announced he won’t be running for re-election, in the city’s next municipal elections in 2010.

An emotional Mayor Miller told a gaggle of reporters during a press conference that he had decided to spend more time with his friends and family, and that he felt it was time to move on.

A tearful Mayor Miller said he was proud of his record, but wanted to spend more time with his kids. He emotionally glowed as he talked with pride of his two children, saying they were born after his first election as councilor in 1994, and if he were to win another term as mayor, his daughter would be in university before he left office.

Toronto Mayor David MillerImage by motionblur via Flickr

First elected mayor of Canada’s largest city in 2003, his second-term began after the 2006 election, and by far was harder than his first session in Toronto’s top political seat.

In his second term in office, Mayor Miller had to contend with an illegal walk-out by the city’s public transit system, the threat to close most of the city’s public pools to cut costs, and most recently, a city-wide strike by all inside and outside city workers, which stopped the collection of garbage – among the more stinky side effects – for 39-days.

No Toronto mayor has ever been re-elected after a garbage strike – former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman also didn’t run for re-election back in 2003, after the city had faced a similar city-wide garbage strike.

An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted just after this summer’s strike showed Mayor Miller’s popularity was at an all-time low of 29 percent, while 25 percent of those polled thought he was a great leader. The remaining 79 percent wanted a new person in the mayor’s chair.

Mayor Miller’s announcement appeared to take many of those who work closest with him by complete surprise. Many city councilors were shocked and saddened by the news, complimenting the mayor for his dedication to the city, his family and even to his colleagues – many of which never quite saw eye-to-eye with his views.

Battle lines were often quite noisily drawn at City Hall, as city council would occasionally divide in two factions – those who supported the mayor and his policies, and those who wanted him raked over the coals for those very same policies.

One such occasion which divided Toronto’s city councilors was the expansion of the Spadina Avenue streetcar. On one side you had the mayor and a group of councilors, bragging about how the expansion is creating jobs to build it, and will bring more people into the area, which will fuel local businesses as people go shopping at street-side stores, eat in the local restaurants, and take part in the other local businesses.

On the other side, many councilors were siding with those that live and work in the area, arguing that the expansion of the streetcar service is currently disrupting their lives, as people are not stopping to shop and eat

David Miller launching "ICT Toronto"...Image via Wikipedia

at local businesses, because of all the construction. And they claim, once the expansion has been built, they will have less sidewalk space and more car space, increasing vehicle traffic, instead of pedestrian traffic, which will see fewer – not more – people spending money in the area.

One rather bold city councilor told a local media news crew during debates about the Spadina streetcar expansion that the mayor should have his head examined, because he wasn’t thinking straight.

Regardless of whether or not you agreed with how Mayor Miller managed Canada’s largest city, he did just that – manage it. It isn’t easy managing any large company, and that’s exactly what it’s like to run one of the world’s largest and most metropolitan cities.

Mayor Miller had to balance Toronto’s budgets, mediate in various labour disputes, create solutions for environmental, social and economical problems. All while the entire city, the country and even on some occasions, the whole world watched.

Mayor Miller didn’t dramatically change anything or make a name for himself outside of Toronto. He didn’t bring in a new subway line like his predecessor Mayor Mel Lastman. He didn’t get international attention for banning one of Canada’s most famous singing groups because their name – The Bare Naked Ladies – sounded like something inappropriate and offensive, as former Toronto Mayor June Rowlands once did. He didn’t receive any awards for protecting the environment as former Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton did (he won a United Nations award for establishing the Toronto Atmospheric Fund). He didn’t get out there and try to make the city work at a grassroots community level, often being seen on public transit, and at community events as former Toronto Mayor John Sewell would do.

What Toronto Mayor David Miller did was his job. Was he a yo-yo mayor, or will he be remembered for his cleaning up of Toronto, his increased funding to put more cops on the streets, and his unwavering stand on revitalizing the city’s waterfront?

Will Toronto Mayor David Miller be remembered for almost shutting down one of the city’s three subway lines, to cut costs during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression? Later, the city came up with new taxes instead of cutting the subway line, these taxes included an increased property tax by 3.8%, a new vehicle registration tax, and a 1.5 percent land transfer tax which was expected to generate over $354 million.

Or, will Toronto Mayor David Miller be remembered for his strong support of public transit? He created several rapid transit bus lines, supported the city’s public transit plan to purchase new buses, streetcars, and light rail systems, including a fifteen-year Transit City plan, which would expand public transit throughout Toronto.

How will you remember Toronto Mayor David Miller’s stewardship of Canada’s largest city?

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