Morale in the Alejandra Bravo campaign plummeted yesterday when the Toronto Star’s Forum poll of council races put Bravo in third place behind an unknown candidate, George Stevens, who has no lawn signs and no campaign to speak of. While the poll can’t possibly be accurate, it appears to indicate that the repugnant Ford lackey Cesar Palacio is coasting to an easy re-election in what should have been Bravo’s chance to finally take advantage of changing demographics and put a progressive in the Davenport North (ward 17) council seat. In many ways, Bravo has authored her own downfall thanks to her Nixonian enemies list that has seen her alienate a number of crucial constituencies in the riding. During her 2006 run, she was livid when NDP stalwart Joe Pantalone failed to endorse her and instead backed his childhood friend Fred Dominelli’s also-ran candidacy. Rather than swallow her hurt feelings and sense of betrayal, she let it be known that Pantalone was now her nemesis and virtually ordered that the 2010 campaign by her protege Jonah Schein should have nothing to do with the Pantalone mayoral campaign even though it would have been an asset to a progressive like Schein. Bizarrely, the Schein campaign acquiesced to her unreasonable petty demands. Much more troubling was her treatment of another protege, Maria Rodrigues who ran as the Trustee candidate on a slate with her during her first race in 2003. While Bravo lost that one, Rodrigues — a Portuguese NDP veteran —won and gave progressives a rare foothold in the Liberal stronghold, where immigrants make up a substantial percentage of the population. The affable Rodrigues further solidified her hold in the 2006 race when she increased her majority substantially.
After Bravo was hired by the Maytree Foundation, she decided that she would sit out the 2010 council race and instead eyed the Trustee seat held by her old friend and ally, Rodrigues. Because the Trustee position is part-time, she could have kept her Maytree job at the same time. When she approached Rodrigues asking her to step aside, the popular incumbent refused. Immediately, Maria Rodrigues was added to the enemies list, the knives came out, and Bravo let it be known that her loyalists must have nothing to do with Rodrigues in any capacity. Again, she instructed the Schein campaign not to ally with Rodrigues despite the fact that the Trustee speaks both Portuguese and Spanish, has a Latino husband with strong community ties, and was willing to knock on doors to help out the anglo Schein. Rodrigues went on to win a landslide victory while Schein went down to a disappointing defeat.
Fast forward to 2014 when the landscape had changed considerably in Davenport. Since 2010, the NDP managed to win both the provincial and federal seats, though Jonah Schein ended up losing his seat in the Andrea Horwath fiasco. When Andrew Cash and Jonah Schein won their seats, the people around them decided to the victors go the spoils. As is their right, they grabbed control of the Davenport NDP in what is still described by some as “the purge.” Give them credit where credit is due. They managed an incredible feat, winning two huge races where the old guard had always failed. Some of the muscle came from outside the riding, notably from the machine of Joe Mihevc next door who helped inject some badly needed fresh organizing blood. In the process, they got cocky and thoroughly alienated much of the old guard. It was evident in the failed campaign of Jonah Schein earlier this year where many of the veterans of his winning campaign had vanished. Though he was undoubtedly also the victim of strategic voting and the poisonous Horwath effect on central Toronto candidates, campaign activists did note that they were lacking the foot soldiers to compete against the newly resurgent Liberal machine.
Excitement was high about the municipal race and the opportunity to finally grab the council seat for Bravo, the darling of both the Schein and Cash forces as well as Joe Mihevc and the new riding association power team. Alas, neither the Schein brothers or Cash knew the real story of Bravo’s animus towards Maria Rodrigues. It’s almost a carbon copy of the ugly drama playing out in the east end where Peter Tabuns and Paula Fletcher turned against the incumbent progressive Trustee, Cathy Dandy, on dubious grounds to run their own hand-picked candidate to unseat Dandy. In Davenport, the NDP machine turned to one of their own, Marit Stiles, to oust Rodrigues even though the incumbent Trustee has been among the leaders of the progressive forces at the Board. Free of the financial and spending scandals that have plagued some of her colleagues, she has fought for progressive causes. She distinguished herself leading both the Somali and Portuguese task force as she fought to address the poverty-related educational underachievement of those two communities. She battled the homophobic Trustee Sam Sotiropoulous when he decried the Board’s involvement at Pride and sponsored a successful resolution to reaffirm the Board’s support for Pride. And most notably, she helped ally the Board with the Clean Train campaign when she sponsored a resolution to have the Board oppose diesel trains because they pass by several schools, endangering the health of children. That should have ingratiated her to both Schein and Cash who subsequently hopped on the Clean Train bandwagon very loudly. But thanks to Bravo’s marching orders, Rodrigues is poison and they are forbidden to associate themselves with her. All’s fair in love and politics but it looks like Bravo’s animus is about to bite her in the ass.
This summer, she enlisted Stiles to formally stab Rodrigues in the back and declare her candidacy to unseat her, running on a slate with Bravo. Not long afterwards, Rodrigues was diagnosed with a fairly serious illness and decided to step down. With the advantages of incumbency and the strong backing of labour and other forces, she would have almost certainly kept the seat but it would have been much closer than her previous landslide victories. With Rodrigues out of the race, Stiles now has to be considered the favourite to gain the seat, considering her vast resources and experience as an NDP organizer, though she faces a strong challenge from another progressive, Marjolein Winterink. But ironically, Bravo's betrayal of Rodrigues appears to be the last straw for many people. Rodrigues has some enemies to be sure but she also had the support of many crucial constituencies including many Parent Council reps, the CUPE TEW local, many teachers and, most importantly, the overwhelming majority of the mainland Portuguese community who fled Salazar and tend to vote progressive unlike the Azorean majority who tend to always vote Liberal. She also had the overwhelming backing of many of the party stalwarts who supported the previous (though unsuccessful) candidacies of Rui Pires and Peter Ferreira. There is no doubt that the new Cash/Schein machine is stronger but in a swing riding like Davenport, they definitely can’t afford to lose these crucial constituencies. I know that none of these people could stomach voting for Palacio. I wonder if they’re supporting the fringe candidates like Stevens and Saeed Selvam as a protest against the tactics of the riding association.
This isn't the time for Scadenfreude. I understand their frustration and am equally appalled by what they did to Maria Rodrigues and their general arrogance. But come on people, we have a chance to finally topple Cesar Palacio and gain a hugely important progressive vote on Council. Bravo might be arrogant and short-sighted but she is very progressive and with Tory as Mayor, her vote and voice could be crucial. Let’s hold our noses, oust Palacio, and then try to mend fences and do some soul-searching in Davenport in time to re-elect Andrew Cash. It would be a tragedy to see all these improbable progressive gains wiped out in the space of a few short years because of idiotic and petty internal politics.