Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The High Cost of Running for Council

Thank you Mr. Joe Fiorito !
The High Cost of Running for Council
By Joe Fiorito, City Columnist  THE TORONTO STAR - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ken Wood sat in the Tim’s at Lansdowne and College with a binder, a sheaf of papers, a cup of coffee and a plate of humble pie on the table in front of him.

Ken ran for city council in Ward 18 and he never stood a chance. That’s not the point — that’s never the point — but now he’s in a jam because his backers are out of pocket, and they’re miffed.

First things first.

His bona fides? “I remember going to a free trade protest in Quebec City and getting tear-gassed. And I was at the convention that elected Trudeau.”

He was beaten by police at a rally in Toronto in 2001, after which he sued and was awarded a tidy settlement. Oh, and he chained himself to a tree during the construction mess on Lansdowne Ave. a couple of years ago; he saved the tree.

Not bad bona fides.

Why did he run? “I’d had some issues in the neighbourhood, and my councillor wasn’t much help.” So Ken, who is on disability, decided to enter the race. It cost him a hundred bucks.

“It gave me a platform to talk about poverty, housing — issues that don’t get addressed.” The ward skews poor. “Maybe poverty isn’t being talked about because poor people aren’t running . . . I figured I could reinforce the messages.” Which is what he did, at four or five public debates.

How did it feel to debate? “It was a bit scary. I wondered whether I should polish a speech. In the end I decided that I know my issues, so I just responded from the heart.”

How did his heart poll? “I got 101 votes; less than one guy who didn’t even campaign — a guy who had no flyers, didn’t come to the debates, and no one could reach him.”

Ken’s votes are not the point, the process is the point. On election day, he was his own scrutineer; later that evening, he attended a party held by the Green candidate and talked politics all night.

What did he learn about running? “That it’s not as difficult as most people might think.”

His problem? “When I registered, I attended the city’s orientation session. They talked about donor contributions, how people would get 75 per cent of their donations back.”

Ken cheerfully raised $745 from four donors: his sister, a friend, a neighbour, and a guy he knows who is a fellow cat rescue volunteer.

“I couldn’t afford signs. I ran flyers off at home, or at the copy shop. I spent the money on ink and paper, and on my cellphone — a pay-as-you-go plan.”

He spent precisely what he raised, but when he went to file his expenses in time for the March 24 deadline, he was reminded that he had to submit an audited statement if his contributors were to get their rebates.

The rules, according to city by-laws: “Candidates are required to hire an auditor if they are:

• participating in the contribution rebate programme (mayor and councillors only)

• accepting contributions or incurring expenses over $10,000.” (end italics)

Ken said, “I read that as not a worry because I wasn’t over $10,000.” An innocent, but costly, mistake. “I was told there’s no appeal.”

He has filed provisionally, and has until September; but an audited statement would cost him $500 and he isn’t sure if he can raise the money.

He’d be grateful if council would consider changing the audit rule from “will require” to “may require,” which is how the province does it.

Why should council make the change? Because we don’t need barriers to democracy in Toronto.

Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email:
Update: Some followup from the article release... (Still feels strange to be heard)

Tweet: 416647905 @KenWood_ward18 good article, i usually rag on Fiorito, but i appreciate ur plight,i'm willing to donate some $ if needed #topoli #tocouncil

Tweet: 416647905 @TOMayorFord If you can do something to fix this, please do. Thank you. #ward18 #topoli #TOCouncil

Tweet: rbmorra @KenWood_ward18 Why don't you get @Ward18AnaBailao working on this very worthy issue! #ward18
(Note: I spoke with her and she is looking into it. Also I hope Joe Mihevc and Josh Matlow will help)

A comment in the Star: A nice guy. Ken Wood sounds honest and sincere and what’s more he really seems to care about the issues - in other words a nice guy. Unfortunately and in the traditional sense nice guys come where? LAST!! Good luck Mr. Wood - don’t give up the fight - remember, the current administration at City Hall is not philosophically in tune with the issue’s you care about - the poor and the disadvantaged!! adrian
UPDATE (April 18): Since the Star article, I have had 2 other people contact me that are in the same boat. No doubt there are othere (47 people did not file in time for the March 24th deadline - speculating whether it was because of this discouragement)