THUNDER BAY, ON --- October 10, 2010 ------ I have promised, and I mean to keep that promise, that this will not become a parochially interested, Thunder Bay municipality column. we will be switching into Federal election mode shortly, and whatever happens in the American mid-terms - as volatile a situation as I’ve ever seen, even more than the Newt Gingrich Revolution of 1998 - will impact the Canadian election. The reason for the latter of course is that every lazy pundit in Canada will spend column inches and televised minutes speculating on the impact of the American mid-terms on the Canadian election.
To expand on the latter, if say the Tea Party ... (having trouble finding non-derogatory noun) ... faction does extraordinarily well, the Serious Faces of the Ottawa Press Club will tell us that we’re all about to lurch to the right. And Lurch of course was the name of the butler on The Munsters.
Canadians being Canadians, we will do the opposite - should that scenario occur, which I rather doubt. If the safest bet in politics is that a split opposition favours the incumbent (see last week), the second safest is that Ontario at the very least will always attempt to impose a balance. I worked in David Peterson’s government for a brief time in the 1980s. Peterson flat-out knew that the John Turner-led implosion of the Federal Liberals in the 1984 election would create a favourable wind for him to launch the ultimately successful 1985 provincial campaign. I’ve always suspected that Peterson played nice-nice with Brian Mulroney in the Meech Lake Constitutional Talks - a decision that largely led to Peterson’s defeat - in order to keep Mulroney in power, to maintain the balance. In my wildest dreams I would never expect Peterson to affirm this speculation. But I maintain my suspicions.
So we’ll have all those things to talk about, but for now there is a municipal campaign going on and I do believe that my observations on Thunder Bay can well apply to your town. Just play the game of (Insert Name Here).
Saturday, The Chronicle-Journal printed its Election 2010 insert. While not an act of altruism on the part of the daily newspaper, candidates very much pay Market Rates for their inclusion, space in in would be a Must -Buy were I running a local campaign. If a Council or School Board candidate has been hitting their electorate with targeted pamphlets and a well-organized canvass, then not. But i haven’t heard of one of those yet.
By the way, i happily and openly encourage candidates to use the comments section to prove me wrong. I would be delighted to be wrong. But please supply evidence to sustain your argument.
In any event, I have never seen such a wheelbarrow-sized boring lump of cold tapioca as the majority of candidate messages. Here is Political Campaigning ABC:
A - Identify the critical issue (or issues, but no more than three)
B - Stimulate discussion of the issue
C- Make a clear statement as to why it is that your election will create a positive outcome for the issue
You need Me to do This so That will happen.
Everything else is just klieg lights and soundtracks. What I’m seeing in the ads and statements presented by the candidates are a bunch of people who are (or who know) absolute ninjas at the look of a desktop publishing presentation but write as though they’re running for captain of the cheerleading squad.
Want examples? Of course you want examples. That’s why you read political columns. Allow me to deal just with the three principal mayoralty candidates. I will be commenting on one Ward race in a few paragraphs, but by and large I don’t feel right hammering at neighbourhood guys and gals who are new to this Blood Sport and have no interest other than trying to fix stuff that’s been bugging them and their friends for years.
But you run for Mayor - to drill deeper into last week’s topic - you’re saying to the public, ‘I’m a Pro.’ You’re the coach that’s winning us the Stanley Cup. You’re what Toronto had with David Crombie, or Chicago had with the retiring Richard Daley, or heck what Duluth MN had with Gary Doty. You have swingers like wrecking balls and you’re going to yank this city into sanity.
In other words, you screw up, you should know better.
You have to meet the expectations of the office.
So let’s look at the Big Three of Hobbs, Peterson and Pullia. My apologies to the Little Three but ... why are you doing this? Never, ever enter a race you’re neither going to win or pull a decent second. Killing makes you effective and a shark. Being butchered means that your ideas are subservient to your ego, as otherwise you would have run at a level where you might actually succeed at implementing them.
So in order of their appearance in the C-J supplement - and by the way, when did ‘advertorial’ first enter the Oxford English Dictionary? - let’s look first at Keith Hobbs. And do bear in mind that this is the message exactly the way the candidate’s team wanted it presented.
Hobbs’ slogan: ‘Thunder Bay can’t move forward by looking back.’
My Comment: Meaningless. Also calls to mind the phrase, ‘Those that do not know history are doomed to repeat it.’
Promise: ‘a new approach’ on a variety of issues.
My Comment:Consisting of what exactly? Random family kidnappings and hostage demands would be a new approach. I don’t mean to suggest this is what Hobbs proposes, but are we talking about conciliation, persuasion, I caught you with a deadcsheep ... what exactly is this new approach?
Turning to the ‘advertorial’, the first bulleted point - where the eye travels to - is: ‘(We need to:) Have a taxation level that is affordable for homeowners and allows our business community to remain competitive
I can’t write the exact phrase I want to write for fear of making advertisers vanish like a May snow, so let me just comment:
Yeah well, I hope my Mom likes her new Easter bonnet.
What is the implication for that comment? Are we talking tax breaks for all? Or if it’s just “we’ll try and hold the line on mill rates”, that is not the sort of issue that is going to drive people into the street with pitchforks and torches.
Which is what a pure Outsider campaign has to have happen in order to win.
Keith Hobbs, if you happen to read this, I’m not loving you or hating you because I don’t know you. I don’t have a picture in my head of what your Administration will look like. You’re doing Nixon running from the Rose Garden when the only thing that will elect you is an insurgency. You need to go bold when the Transit strike hits. Check that. You need to go bold before the Transit strike hits. Playing it tight may seem the way to go, but I remind you that Doyle Brunson won the World Series of Poker Main Event twice on the same hand: 10-2.
Sometimes you have to play the 10-2.
Turning a page or two in the supplement, we come to Lynn Peterson. She is running the classic incumbent campaign. Every young actor wants to do ‘To Be or Not to Be’ as their audition piece. Every incumbent runs on the record. The first lines of text in her ad are: ‘Change doesn’t just happen - it comes from careful planning and sound decision making.’
Comment: So the subtext is, ‘Vote for me. I’m not crazy.’
Well now, there’s an inspiring message. I used to work for a multi-billion dollar company whose trainer said to use the sales pitch to prospective clients, ‘We’re Big, We’re Old, We’re Boring.’ Same message, different product. Appeal to the risk-averse.
As a general principle, I can’t argue with the approach. Once you’ve been around for awhile - and four years is way too long a term in my opinion - it is very hard to difficult to re-invent one’s self as someone new. Lady Gaga in a Lady Gaga costume is hot and intriguing. Cher in a Lady gaga costume is - um - wow - do you think you can still get away with that.
And now of course I have this really awkward and upsetting image of Lynn Peterson is snow white 10 inch flat heel boots with five snow white ostrich feathers sprouting over her head.
I suffer for my art.
The thing is, Peterson’s campaign is so based on her hole cards - what I have will defeat that which comes - that I still say she is wide open to what the Republicans in the U.S. refer to as the October Surprise. The aforementioned possible transit strike. A sudden mass layoff. What about one of the other candidates lobbing a grenade into the mix like:
Did you know? that Bird Construction, awarded the contract for building the new Provincial Courthouse, whose disruption to the Transit system has forced the City of Thunder Bay to turn its City Hall into a bus depot at considerable expense - did you know that they are planning on flying in workers and putting them up in hotgels rather than, you know, hiring locally?
If - if - I’m running a campaign against Lynn Peterson or any incumbent I’m going to say hot that kind of gut issue about 20 minutes into a 1 hour debate, just when everyone is getting a little satisfied and bored and light up the room. I’m going to play that you don’t have a ready answer for that kind of attack, you’re going to try and bury it in bureaucratic jargon and I’m going to look like a hero.
The only counter is to have a clear understanding with the public that the process used in decision-making is completely on the side of the people’s raw needs - jobs, shelter, food, health. I am not feeling that narrative from the Peterson campaign. The split opposition vote will carry her through but ... if events and the other side get smart and ruthless ... I’d want to be prepared.
As for Frank Pullia, this seems bizarre to say, but the slogan ‘CHANGE you can TRUST’ is both as ham-handed as Arnold Ziffel and sooooo 2008. You’d think it would work - Pullia obviously does - because those are the elements you want the public to want. Change - throw the bums out. Trust - throw in non-bums. But this Obama-echo is so obvious and so photocopied that it becomes worse than meaningless; it is annoying in its meaninglessness.
I certainly don’t mean to rag on Pullia. I’ve met Pullia and he seems a decent and sincere man but a top Priority of, ‘Job Creation through economic development & growth’ is like saying ‘Let’s stop earthquakes!’ Yay! Stop earthquakes! Yay! How are we going to do this!?!? Tell me!
... why do I hear the sound of crickets chirping?
And it is no good to point to a fat binder on a shelf and say, “Oh? you want to see the plan? Well, here - THUD.” Nobody’s going to ask. You have to be able to tell people in 50 words or less who you are, what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. And yes it’s hard and yes that’s why political pros make lots and lots of money.
But always, with every decision in a campaign, the only thought process that counts is, ‘What decision can I make that will help me win? What decision can I make that might destroy me?’ And the lines can sometimes (usually) be hard to discern. But sometimes you gotta cross that line. What do you want to be? the runner who scores or is thrown out at home plate; or the runner stranded at third because he didn’t go first to home on a double?
Be seeing you.
for Lake Superior News