Joe Pantalone, David Miller

Will Mayor Miller's endorsement of Joe Pantalone make any difference?

Mayor Miller's official endorsement of Joe Pantalone earlier today may be just the thing that the deputy mayor's campaign needed going into the final three weeks of the mayoral race. With the last Nanos poll still showing the progressive candidate at 16.8% -- which is a distant third to Rob Ford and George Smitherman -- there's little doubt that Pantalone needed a jumpstart of sorts. And yet, given the current climate of the race, I can't help but think Miller's approval will make little difference come October 25.

It's really anybody's guess how this endorsement will play out at this point, but it might be worth recalling the degree to which Pantalone sought to distance himself from the current mayor earlier in the race. When we interviewed him in early June, he had this to say about their relationship: "He's the mayor; I'm the deputy mayor...We have mutual respect; but I can't say we're friends....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."

That's not particularly damning, and the two politicians certainly don't need to be friends to have similar philosophies about how the city is run. But, when prodded, Pantalone continued by saying, "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 the distinction is that I'm more grassroots."

Given the degree to which Rob Ford's campaign has capitalized on the rhetoric of "change" that's been a rallying cry throughout this election, Pantalone's prior reticence to affiliate himself too closely with Miller was hardly surprising. If the prevailing sentiment amongst voters is that the city is broken -- even if, in actuality, that's a straw man argument -- then tethering his campaign to the person putatively responsible for the city's ills just doesn't make much strategic sense. The possibility also exists that Pantalone's wholehearted acceptance of Miller's endorsement will come off as a desperate flip-flop in the final stages of a flagging campaign.

But, perhaps the more interesting question today's announcement raises is why Miller waited so long to make this move. Despite the possible negatives mentioned above, other polling numbers suggest that Miller is far more popular than the current mayoral candidates have made him out to be. An Ipsos Reid poll released in late August revealed that, were he in the race, David Miller would likely win the upcoming election by a comfortable margin. Perhaps that's merely the power of incumbency (or pseudo-incumbency, as the case may be), but wouldn't that have been the a ripe opportunity to give the Pantalone campaign a shot in the arm?

Left this late, the likelihood is that today's endorsement won't propel Pantalone into the thick of a race that he's signficantly behind in. Miller's own campaign in 2003 may lead some to believe otherwise, that there's plenty of time for the deputy mayor to make a surge, but with the Smitherman camp attracting the support of those who believe that he's the only candidate who can prevent a Rob Ford victory, it's hard to believe that Pantalone will be able to use this endorsement to alter the trajectory of the race in any significant way.

In fact, of the two endorsements announced in the last 24 hours, Joe Mihevc's boost of Smitherman will almost surely prove to be more important than Miller's support of Pantalone. The progressive councillor's decision to get strategic with his endorsement -- not to mention Sarah Thomson's decision to drop out of the race last week -- lends powerful credence to the notion that the election has been reduced to two players, neither of whom is Joe Pantalone.

Photo by Pedro Marques

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