Just hours after Mayor Rob Ford blasted police chief Bill Blair in front of City Hall reporters this week – daring Chief Blair to “arrest me” amidst an increasingly heated showdown – a curious tweet appeared on the official David Soknacki for Mayor account.
“Never heard of me? Neither has 52 Division,” it read, attached to an image of Mr. Soknacki, Photoshopped onto a yellow meme-like background.
The tweet, which poked fun of the tension at City Hall, immediately grabbed the attention of journalists and municipal politics watchers, who retweeted the message in the hundreds. And, according to Mr. Soknacki’s campaign, it was part of a larger strategy by the former Scarborough councillor – who lacks the name recognition or celebrity of his rivals – to “make our own media” and gain attention in an increasingly crowded field of candidates.
“Our thinking was that we might as well embrace the fact that we don’t have celebrity status,” said Supriya Dwivedi, Mr. Soknacki’s spokesperson.
“It’s not like Jimmy Kimmel’s going to talk about us [a reference to the many times Mr. Ford has been the butt of jokes by the late-night talk show host]. We’re not going on a national book tour [like NDP MP Olivia Chow, who is considering entering the race]. It’s not like we’ve just given up a really popular radio show [like John Tory, another mayoral candidate]. David’s just a regular guy,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Soknacki campaign posted a similarly quirky image with the same meme-like look and feel. This one read “Never heard of me? Neither has Jimmy Kimmel.”
Social media and memes are an ideal way for Mr. Soknacki to get his message out, considering the majority of Toronto media remains fixated on the ongoing Ford scandal that has engulfed City Hall.
They also work, Ms. Dwivedi said, because as much as they poke fun at Mr. Ford and his recent troubles, they’re also making light of Mr. Soknacki and his reputation for being somewhat dull. The former budget chief under David Miller has encouraged that reputation, too – on more than one occasion at his press conferences, he’s apologized to reporters for having to cover him as opposed to the more colourful Mr. Ford.
And after the year of controversy that has followed Mr. Ford’s mayoralty, the Soknacki campaign is betting that voters will appreciate a “nerd.”
“I wouldn’t call it making fun of him, but he is a nerd,” Ms. Dwivedi said. “He is a policy wonk, and there’s no point in hiding it. I don’t think those are bad qualities in politicians, especially when he’s going to be at the helm of Canada’s largest city.”
The memes, which voters can expect to see more of as the campaign ramps up, were a “team effort,” she said, and produced under the guidance of Siri Agrell, the newly announced communication director. Ms. Agrell recently left the premier’s office as deputy director of communications, and is a former Globe and Mail reporter.
Ms. Dwivedi said the purpose isn’t simply to attract younger voters or to go viral. But because so many members of Mr. Soknacki’s team are so young – three of his organizers are under the age of 30, and Ms. Dwivedi herself is just 28 – it seemed like a natural way of communicating with voters. They’re also cheap to produce, which, she added “is a nice, good benefit.”