Amazing experience running for school board trustee

By MURPHY BROWNE

The 2010 Toronto municipal election held on October 25, 2010 is over and we have a new mayor and 14 new city councillors among the 44 councillors who will occupy Toronto City Hall for the next four years.

The position for mayor of Toronto was open for the first time since the 2003 Toronto municipal election because David Miller decided not to seek a third term. So there were 40 candidates running for that position. Very early in the race, the White media decided that there would be five White men and one White woman who were worthy of becoming Toronto’s next mayor.

They did not consider any racialized mayoral candidate worthy of their attention. By the end of the campaign period there were three candidates who the media included in public opinion polls and mayoral debates: Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone and George Smitherman.

Rocco Rossi, Sarah Thomson and Giorgio Mammoliti, who were considered major candidates when they launched their campaigns, dropped out of the race. Rob Ford was endorsed by the Toronto Sun and the National Post while George Smitherman was endorsed by the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and the Torontoist.

Although the mayoral race seemed to be the only race on which the media concentrated, there was much drama in the campaign for city councillors and trustees in the various wards. Five incumbent councillors were ousted and in some of the wards where there were no incumbents, there were between 12 and 15 candidates. Although 14 new councillors were elected only one is a racialized person in this city where the motto is “diversity our strength”.

The situation was not much better with the elected trustees for the four boards of education. Trustees were elected to the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Conseil scolaire de district du Centre-Sud-Ouest and Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is the largest school board in Canada and the fourth largest in North America.

There are more than 270,000 students in the TDSB’s 558 schools. The 22 trustees of the TDSB are each responsible for schools in two city wards. Any candidate running for a position as TDSB trustee had to campaign in two city wards and some candidates running for trustee at the Toronto Catholic District School Board had to campaign in three city wards.

As a public school trustee candidate in the 2010 municipal election in Ward 14 Toronto Centre-Rosedale, I campaigned in city Wards 27 and 28. There were some alarming moments, including a phone call from the campaign manager of another candidate encouraging me to “drop out” of the race. In hindsight, the suggestion should not have come as an unpleasant surprise but since this was the first time I had ever been approached to “drop out” of a race, I was alarmed.

Visions of unsavoury characters lurking and confronting me at inconvenient moments ran through my mind, especially after I was told that another female candidate had been persuaded to drop out of the Ward 14 race. However, after noting the number of candidates who “dropped out” of this municipal race for various reasons, I understand that this is nothing unusual.

Another slightly less alarming moment came when I was told by a security guard at a condominium building in the revitalized and gentrified Regent Park that the upmarket Cole Street building was out of bounds to my volunteer and I because it was a private building. I explained that as we were distributing campaign literature for the upcoming October 25 municipal election, we did have the right to access the building but he insisted that we leave because those were his orders.

Recognizing that the man was only doing his job we went over to the Daniels Corporation office just across the street from the condominium, where we were told by the man at the front desk after he consulted with his boss that we could not go into the building to distribute campaign literature, but we were welcome to go to the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings nearby.

My volunteer and I left but the next day I was at City Hall to clarify the situation, where I was told that legally I had the right to canvass the building and distribute my campaign literature.

With the letter from the elections office at City Hall, I eventually returned to 1 Cole Street, where I was pleasantly surprised to find that the security guard who was there did not try to prevent our entry. My volunteer and I distributed the campaign literature without hindrance.

On October 25, I eagerly followed the results as the ballots were counted and the numbers of votes for each candidate was displayed. By Tuesday morning when all the votes had been counted I knew that 5,351 citizens living in Ward 14 had cast their ballots in my favour.

My campaign was run on a budget of less than $2,000 and two dedicated volunteers, Maria Garrick and Myrtle Rudder. I sincerely thank the other people who volunteered to distribute my campaign literature in buildings where they live and those people who volunteered an hour or two to help at various times but I cannot thank these two sistren enough.

They were with me whenever I went out to campaign. We were like The Three Musketeers; Maria, Murphy and Myrtle. We walked for miles campaigning in Wards 27 and 28, sometimes in buildings with 50 storeys, but never a word of complaint from Maria and Myrtle; even when dogs tore campaign flyers out of their hands as the flyers were pushed through mail slots.

We also had fun during the campaign. At one point after campaigning for hours, tired and practically limping, we went to Ritz Caribbean Food at Yonge and College to recharge with curry chicken. We did more than eat, ending up dancing to oldies but goodies (Michael Jackson, Anita Baker, Rick James etc.). The DJ was in his element and so were we and we did leave recharged from the great food and music.

Maria went the extra mile as my temporary replacement (for the past two months) as co-host on Frequency Feminisms at CKLN 88.1 FM, every Sunday morning from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon and Myrtle, by storing my lawn signs at her home and helping to pull them up from where I had put them around Wards 27 and 28. It was interesting driving around the neighbourhood trying to remember exactly where I had put all those lawn signs.

It was an amazing learning experience because running for school board trustee is slightly different from running for city councillor or MPP. This experience will stand me in good stead for 2014. My election blog is still up and running at www.electmurphybrowneward14.blospot.com.

tiakoma@aol.com

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