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2003 Municipal Election: Tory's proven himself in arenas that count ROYSON JAMES

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Nov. 4, 2003. 06:29 AM
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&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp The mid-term James report&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp
Tory's proven himself in arenas that count

ROYSON JAMES

The most impressive thing about John Tory's bid to become mayor of Toronto is that the more people get to know him, the more they like him. The problem is, baggage keeps getting in the way.

Before Tory, 49, joined the race, he was president of Rogers Cable.

People say Tory was responsible for the cable company's negative billing fiasco. He wasn't. In fact, he arrived to clean up the mess.

Tory drives a Lexus, belongs to a powerful, blue-blood family. But the Tory name doesn't carry much currency in these parts these days. There is a reason there are no Tory (Progressive Conservative) MPPs in Toronto — all cleared out in the provincial election.

Critics blame Tory for helping to get Mike Harris elected, but forget Tory was principal secretary for Bill Davis, the most progressive premier of our time.

They say he was a Mel Lastman adviser, and he was, but they forget that Mel took advice from nooobody. And they discount the fact he was campaign manager for David Crombie, the most beloved Toronto mayor alive.

Ask around, and people who have worked, played, fundraised and swapped political strategies with him say Tory is overflowing with integrity. There is no hint of wrongdoing or discreditable conduct.

So, they are beside themselves with disgust over John Nunziata's allegations that one of Tory's supporters offered Nunziata money, through an intermediary, to drop out of the race.

York Regional police threw out the charge yesterday and Tory dismissed it with, "The sideshow is over."

Tory may be right, but the impact probably hurts his chances. Certainly, it wasn't helpful.

The latest poll by Ipsos Reid last night showed David Miller at 37 per cent of decided votes, Tory in second at 31 per cent and Hall plunging to 19 per cent, less than a week before election day.

Tory has climbed from, at one point, 6 per cent in the polls. Increasingly, voters are asking: Who is this guy?

Apart from the Rogers gig, which he gave up to run for mayor, he's been a major behind-the-scenes operative for the Conservatives, running campaigns for the likes of Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Crombie.

When not working for pay, he's engaged with the non-profit sector, raising funds, staging campaigns, saving institutions from ruin, sitting on hospital boards, being a volunteer extraordinaire.

Whether with the Salvation Army, St. Michael's Hospital, Canadian Film Centre, Crime Stoppers, the United Way, University of Toronto, the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund or a long list of others, Tory finds a way to get involved.

Those who criticize him for not taking a position on civic matters forget that the big city needs all kinds of heroes, public and private, for profit and not-for-profit. Tory has proven himself in many arenas.

When the Canadian Football League was in trouble, they turned to Tory and he kept them afloat with deft management.

When the United Way got jittery about weakened fundraising ability in the face of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Tory held the organization together.

"If you are a fundraiser for the non-profit sector, John Tory is a dream guy to have on your team," says Yiannis Stamatakos, who used to raise money for the Daily Bread Food Bank and now supports Tory. "I bet any money he's contributing at least 25 hours a week for the non-profit, charitable organizations."

Tory wants to bring his skills to city hall. He's a take-charge guy who is capable of including many viewpoints and then resolutely taking action. If nothing else, Tory is a very quick study. He quickly analyzes a problem and finds a solution, rather than commissioning more study.

His business and professional experience shows he can take complex organizations, break them down into workable parts and effect beneficial changes.

He is the only one of the top five candidates without hands-on political experience. Yet, Tory's campaign platforms have been well-researched, carefully thought out and, in several cases, far superior to those of the veteran politicians.

If voters want a sound fiscal manager at city hall, Tory is their candidate. But where the candidate has surprised many is with his social platform.

He wants to build 1,000 new supportive-housing units within the first year and 1,000 new affordable housing units in each of the next three years.

He's promised almost $20 million to fund services for kids in disadvantaged areas, and he wants to roll back fees charged to community groups to use playing fields and schools.

It would be absurd to say he knows or understands poverty, rich as he is and born into privilege. Yet, it is Tory who promises to target the 10 poorest neighbourhoods for special attention aimed at improving life there.

What we have in Tory is a candidate who's energetic, earnest, intelligent and has a passion for this city.

Toronto could do a lot worse than John Tory as mayor. Some would say it can't do better.

Royson James usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: rjames@thestar.ca

Additional articles by Royson James

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