Wednesday, June 12, 2013

rep road: dateline toronto (3)

There’s one title on the new Yale list which is eliciting groans, guffaws and sarcastic remarks as I pitch it to Toronto booksellers.  It’s not the fault of the book.  It’s a serious argument by a serious scholar that the problems of the world are better solved by cities than at the state, provincial and federal level.  Debatable, but not especially controversial.

But what’s provoking the sad head-shaking here is the title: If Mayors Ruled the World. The wonderful city of Toronto is currently being ruled by a buffoonish gasbag, a civic embarrassment, and it’s the thought of this particular mayor extending his reign in a global direction that has my booksellers choking on  their coffee.  (Professionals that they are, they haven’t taken it out on the book and it's advancing nicely.)

Rob Ford bullied his way into office and has been something of a laughing-stock, offering up gaffes and scandals on a regular basis.  The latest devastating blow-up features the mayor in a video apparently doing crack.   His critics, in disbelief, demand his resignation; his supporters- 30% of the voters at least- only seem to love him more with every new fiasco.

Ford would be a very familiar type to US voters.  He’s a right wing populist who has built a career railing against “the elites,” despite his own life of privilege; he thrives on playing off and playing up popular resentments, driving wedges between communities wherever he finds an opening; and he and his supporters are most at home in a perpetual state of raw victimization, usually by “the media.”

But this is Canada.  Toronto!  The home of Jane Jacobs,, and (still) one of the most robust centers of sustainable urban politics in North America.  How did Rob Ford happen here? 

I’m no expert, but apparently life really changed after the five large neighboring communities surrounding Toronto- Missisauga, Etobicoke, several others- were amalgamated into one big city in the past decade.  Suddenly, the political character of what we’ve known as “Toronto” is now largely determined by voters who don’t really live in the city, and harbor a laundry list of resentments against it.  For my local Milwaukee friends, this would be like combining Waukesha County with Milwaukee- imagine the type of mayor they’d saddle us with.

Anyway, all very sad for a city many of us love and look to for cutting-edge urban solutions.  I’m assured by some smart booksellers here that it can’t last, that he was elected on a backlash against a previous mayor, and that there are some fine candidates in the wings.

But meanwhile, I will continue to cringe a little as I get to page 39 in my catalog, knowing that the title will inevitably be read by my buyer- for one scary moment- as If Rob Ford Ruled the World.

1 comment:

  1. And the mayor of Montreal just got arrested so look for more guffaws!