Joe Pantalone

Toronto through the eyes of Joe Pantalone

Joe Pantalone, Toronto's deputy mayor and a candidate in the 2010 election, isn't exactly tall. So, being 6' 4" I had a little trepidation before I met him. "I'm going to get a picture of you towering over him," my friend laughed before we met him. "Sure, but I'm not posting that online," I told her, "We'd both look weird."

I don't know many people Pantalone's size, but I certainly wasn't anything out of the ordinary for him --his boss for the past seven years, David Miller, is also 6' 4" and so is TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

As we arrived to meet Pantalone in Little Italy, we watched him shaking hands and mingling with locals at the corner of College and Crawford in. It had just started raining, but not enough to keep people off the streets. Several supporters stopped to talk to him in Italian, and he happily exchanged friendly banter.

"You've got a lot of friends around here," I said. "Some people say I'm the king of College Street," he joked. "But a good king, not a bad one."

As much as he's Italian, Pantalone is a true Torontonian -- whether you like his politics or not. He's lived on Beatrice Street off College since the 1960s when his family came here from Sicily, and has been involved with much of what's happened politically in this city since the early 1980s. As an immigrant who's established strong roots here, he's a great example of Toronto's multicultural identity.

Pantalone is the lone left-wing candidate of this mayoral race. And luckily for him, Adam Giambrone dropped out in February, who was likely to grab a sizable chunk of the progressive vote. It also meant Pantalone was able to snatch John Laschinger as a campaign manager, who'd originally gone to work for Giambrone.

The challenge for Pantalone in this election will be to convince us that voting for him won't mean more of the same. While he's been deputy mayor jobs have left Toronto, our budget has grown, services stagnated, transit stayed unreliable, congestion became worse, and money was wasted by bad management. We'll have to see if he offers any fresh ideas.

For now, Pantalone agrees there are problems that need to be fixed and, among other things, he points to his achievements on the environment. In 2000, he established the Tree Advocacy Planting Program, and in 2002, started the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation. According to his website, programs he's worked with have planted 500,000 trees throughout Toronto.

He's been a staunch supporter of Transit City and of Toronto's priority neighborhoods. He's pleased biking advocates by supporting dedicated bike lanes, and more recently, soccer fans too by allowing bars to serve alcohol an hour early for the World Cup.

One thing that struck me during my time with him was what he had to say about David Miller, who he described as out of touch with the people.

Joe Pantalone deputy mayor toronto

Here's some of what we chatted about as we walked through Little Italy:

Why are campaigns so full of personal attacks and generalities, why are they so rarely about real issues?

That's the $64 billion question. I think, regretfully, society has been moving in a direction where personalities have become the issues, rather than the issues being the issues.

I've the observation, time again, that the media has two mandates -- the mainstream media that is. The first is to propagate news; the second is to do business. A business is accountable to its shareholders, and it needs to make them happy by increasing revenue. Unfortunately, the way to increase revenue is by sensationalizing -- so therefore bad news sells.

But candidates play into this, don't they?

Well, the media is now beginning to judge whether you're viable as a candidate depending on whether you're able to be "strong," and if you can withstand attack or criticize others. The way news is done has a way it's a deterioration of the democratic process.

When somebody asks you a question, you've got to answer it in 30 seconds. You think you can give a presentation of your vision for a city of 2.6 million people in 30 seconds? So the conversation isn't one of analysis or's about quick hits.

Can you tell me how/why you decided to enter this race?

In September, when David Miller decided not to run, I said to myself, "Jee whiz, what am I going to do now?" I didn't know if I would run again, I wasn't sure at that point.

I actually went to see a human resources councillor. We had lunch, and I asked, "You think I'll find a job?" He told me: "You know how city hall works; you know how communities work; you know how to do public and private sector partnerships; you know how development works; you've been at Toronto-Hydro, at Exhibition Place, and you were involved with Pinewood film studios and its'll have no problem. You'll make much more money and you'll work half the time you do now."

But then I looked around and I saw who was running, and I said, oh my God, these people are going to mess things up...I'm better qualified than they are. I know how to get things done...I can work with more people than anyone of them can. So I said, if I don't run...I'm going to kick myself forever.

In the past you've said that you don't like campaigning, why's that?

I've changed on that. But it's true...[it's because] I like governing. To tell you the truth, ever since I've decided to run for mayor, I find myself liberated. I like the enthusiasm of the people I meet. I enjoy sharing information, and developing ideas too.

So this is the first campaign you've enjoyed?

Well, there was one election in 1987 I enjoyed, but hopefully this one won't have the same outcome. I ran provincially and came within a 157 votes of winning. Everyone thought I was a shoo-in...that's why I lost.

I was truly exploring ideas, concepts and meeting people back then. But this [mayoral] election...I'm truly enjoying now.

Can you describe Toronto after a successful four year Pantalone administration?

It would be a city where the residents feel closer to city hall -- much, much closer than they feel now. This would be through civic engagement, through things like social media.

Secondly there would be more job creation through public and private sector community partnerships. Not like highway 407, in which the private sector basically ripped off the public sector, but more like BMO field, for example...or Pinewood films studio.

Our diversity would also be deepened, so that we are really using it, rather than just paying lip service to it. I'm amazed at how we have people from every part of the world, whose cousins, uncles, and best friends are presidents of countries, mayors of big cities, and heads of government agencies. But we don't know who they are. If we did, we could have the Toronto "know-how" model being exported there, and they in turn, would share with us...

And finally, it would be a Toronto where Transit City is built, and where we'd be working on Transit City Two...

Speaking of transit, would you work with the Province on the revised Transit City plans that Metrolinx presented last week?

I say let's build that, and I'll tell the province it's not good enough. Let me put it this way, the Greater Toronto Area grows by over a million people every 10 years, and about 100,000 every year, so if population is growing, shouldn't transit be growing? Rather than, this starting and stopping, this back and forth, it has to be continuous...that's the way we're going to stay at the top.

We're worse than Los Angeles because getting to where you want to go takes 80 minutes, and in LA it's 76 minutes. It costs us more not to spend the money than to spend the money.

Why didn't you do more about these transportation problems as deputy mayor?

In 2008 [the Fraser Institute] analyzed the Province's tax situation situation and found that out of all the taxes paid in Ontario --put together in one basket, municipal, provincial, and federal -- municipalities only got 5.6 percent...With that 5.6 percent you have direct responsibility for police, fire, ambulance, all the roads in Toronto, transit, parks, libraries, recreational programs, water and sewage, environmental initiatives, community grants, cultural grants, public housing, and child care and social assistance. For 5.6 percent, you're going to do all those?

...So as deputy mayor, I'm amazed by how much of a good job we can still do in the city. Tell me how does it make sense that the largest transit system in the province and the country doesn't get a cent for its operating budget from the provincial government? Whoever lives and works in the city is paying money to this provincial government, through income tax and sales tax, and the Province is contributing zero in return?

Mr. Smitherman, where have you been in the last five years? As one of the most powerful politicians outside of Toronto, you haven't fixed this, and now you want to be mayor of this city?

Do you think we'll ever see more subways downtown?

I love subways. I think we'll see more subways, yes. But sometimes you have to crawl before you can walk. The public transit system graduates from buses, when they're heavily used to streetcars that have a higher capacity, and eventually to subways. To build a subway where you should have put in a bus... well [in that situation] you put in tons of money and there's no return on your investment. That's why the Eglinton Line from the Don Vally to Keele is set to be underground (as a tunnel) and built with subway can convert it from a streetcar to a subway very easily.

Do you think there's a desire for change in this election?

Some things need to improve, I believe that. But 80 per cent of Torontonians like Toronto.

You better be careful because there's nothing that says Toronto shall be a great city forever.

50 years ago on the Great Lakes there used to be cities that were as amazing in their time as Toronto is now. But bad leadership and a lack of experience has led them to disaster. I'm talking about Detroit, Buffalo and Cleveland.

So if we step backwards, by selling Toronto-Hydro, like Mr. Rossi wants to do, or by selling a part of the TTC, like Mr. Smitherman wants to do, we're on the road to Buffalo, not the road to the fantastic city. Once that's explained, I think Torontonians get it.

So what explains all the support Rob Ford and Smitherman have?

There's a disconnect between what the city is doing and what people think the city is able to do. The lowest common denominator seems to be getting more attention than it should in the mainstream media.

Tell me why Mr. Ford gets accolades for not spending his communications budget with his constituents? Part of a councillor's job is to communicate with your residents, so if I'm not spending my money, I'm not doing my job. Somehow that seems to be a virtue [for Ford]...

I think Mr. Ford should refund his salary to the taxpayers of Toronto, because he's not doing his job. And his attendance record, as it appeared in the Toronto Star demonstrates this clearly...[he] shows up, waves a flag, and disappears, and when the hard work's getting done he's somewhere else. That's the record.

Can you tell me about your relationship with David Miller?

He's the mayor; I'm the deputy mayor...We have mutual respect; but I can't say we're friends. We don't go out drinking together or anything. In the last three years, maybe we've had dinner together three times...I think he's a smart guy; his heart is in the right place, but there's been a failure of communication [with Torontonians] unquestionably.

So what have you disagreed about most strongly?

When you're a leader you have to be ahead of the people -- that's what leadership is all about, and you have to show the way. But you can't be so far ahead that you distance yourself from the people.

I think this has been done inadvertently...I don't think it was meant to be that way, but that's been the outcome. But this is not about's about Joe Pantalone. I don't want to go further than that.

For those who see you and your policies as a continuation of David Miller, how might you distinguish yourself?

I could be flippant and ask: do I look 6' 4" blond, and blue eyed to you? Or I could say that I went to Harbord, not Harvard. But I think the distinction is that I'm more grassroots. I think I'm more aware of my own frailties, and I'm closer to the ground -- in more ways than one...

What can city hall do to improve the communication problem you talk about?

I'd hire two people in my office as mayor, whose sole job would be civic engagement. To connect better with Torontonians, to listen better, do better what the people want us to do better, to inform them better as a government, and to help them have better relations between themselves by using the city as a platform.

We're entering a new age in technology, and city hall is not there. I want to start with the mayor's office and instill this in the bureaucracy.

So if there's a local park in your area, you should be able to go to a website and see what's happening in that local park, and you should be able to then report back to the city on what you think should be going on there. And you should also be speaking to your neighbours, who also use those parks, through that same media...

Finally, what can we expect from you as this campaign moves forward?

More people will see what Joe Pantalone is really all about, and I'm hoping that people will see my incredible experience and knowledge and the human being in me...Just because I'm 5' 1" and I didn't go to Harvard doesn't mean I don't know this city and what it's all about.

Photos by Amy Stupavsky

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