Karen Stintz faced almost impossible odds in her bid to become the next mayor of Toronto. The contest has been dominated since the spring by three formidable figures: one, John Tory, a well-known second-time candidate and former leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative party; another, Olivia Chow, the well-known former NDP MP and city councillor who came to fame as Jack Layton’s widow; another, you know who, notorious around the world for you know what.
Even the best of candidates would have struggled to compete with such a lineup, and Ms. Stintz was not the best of candidates. Her performance was shaky from the start and she never quite found her feet. Stuck in the single digits in the polls and struggling to raise money to battle it out in the home stretch of the campaign that starts after Labour Day, she made the practical choice and pulled out.
Ms. Stintz started out as a promising candidate. An intelligent, articulate mother of young children, she did a good job as TTC chair as the transit service struggled to renew itself. She is an experienced, effective city councillor with 11 years of service under her belt, including a period as one of former mayor David Miller’s sharpest critics.
She showed real grit when she led a city council revolt against Mayor Rob Ford’s ill-advised transit plans. As a fiscal conservative who backed Mr. Ford in most of his budget-trimming efforts, she could claim to be the sort of politician who would keep the lid on wasteful spending at city hall while recognizing the need to make city-building investments.
But she often came across as stilted or uncertain on the campaign trail. She never managed to seize on a defining issue that would set her apart from the other four main candidates. She was hobbled by her status as a centre-right figure in a contest with two other, more prominent right-of-centre candidates, Mr. Tory in particular. “People thought we were interchangeable,” she says.
Her plan to pay for transit expansion by selling off half of Toronto Hydro and tap into city parking revenues was questionable. Her big play, championing the Scarborough subway in place of light rail, blew up in her face. If the political motive was to establish her credibility with suburban voters, it didn’t turn out that way. Mr. Ford claimed credit for the subway, even though she did most of the work. As Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong puts it, you can’t out-subway Rob Ford.
Ms. Stintz says that when a poll came out earlier this month showing even women voters moving to Mr. Tory, she started considering whether to drop out. Her family was “adamant” that she stay in, “but, pragmatically, running a campaign requires momentum and it wasn’t coming.” Stintz campaign adviser Cal Bricker says “we had good weeks and we had bad weeks but we never had enough good weeks together to move the numbers.”
Ms. Stintz says that in the past two weeks she faced “the sinking realization that if I stayed on the ballot, I probably would not break 5 per cent, and what kind of legacy would I leave?” She admits she is disappointed. The experience of running for mayor was “bittersweet.” She relished the chance to campaign and put her ideas out, but she never caught on and now she is not going to be on the ballot on Oct. 27.
That’s a shame. It wasn’t easy to stand up to Rob Ford. It isn’t easy to throw yourself into the meat grinder of a mayoral campaign. By running against such odds, Ms. Stintz showed she was ambitious in the best way – both for herself and for the city.