Make. It. Stop. Councillor Norm Kelly has just been dubbed the country’s “most valuable tweeter” by Twitter Canada. It’s a poufy bow on the 74-year-old politician’s shiny social media year, which sees him closing out 2015 with more than 200,000 followers.
Mr. Kelly’s Twitter stream is made up of jokes, pictures of Toronto and, as befits a Governor-General’s award-winning historian, random tidbits about days gone by. Oh, and lots and lots of hip hop.
Though Mr. Kelly said in August that he hasn’t “listened to the music that often,” his feed is full of rap lingo and imagery – this syncs up with his friendship with Drake, which neither Mr. Kelly nor the young people whose affection he’s courting can get enough of. The 6 God has dubbed Mr. Kelly the 6 Dad, shared a video of the politician dancing in a mock Hotline Bling setup with the Toronto Raptors mascot and opined recently that the older man should drop a mixtape.
I beg you, Jimmy, no. Stop throwing confetti around @norm. The fluttering bits are obscuring the fact that despite his recent donning of black youth culture, he hasn’t spent much of his 30-year stash of political currency on them at all.
Mr. Kelly has been a politician in Scarborough for decades, but his current notoriety started during Rob Ford’s tumultuous reign.
When the crack-smoking chief was stripped of his powers, Kelly became acting mayor and steered the municipal ship with much less turbulence. After John Tory was elected, many city hall watchers were surprised that Kelly wasn’t rewarded with a juicy post. But though both men lean right, the veteran councillor wasn’t tapped to be on the new mayor’s executive, nor asked to oversee any important files.
Whether or not Kelly found this a slight professionally, personally he sure seems to miss the attention. And so he has jumped on the Aubrey Graham bandwagon, using Toronto’s exciting place in the hip hop spotlight to reflect a little light on himself. To me, the endless selfies and posing are cringeworthy. If you need heftier reasons to question them, I’ve got lots.
The politician says his interest in hip hop is youth-centered. Well, great. Scarborough has 100,000 residents under 14 and the city’s highest population of 15-to-19-year-olds. But in the past five years alone, Kelly has voted against letting young people use city pools for free and against using millions of provincial dollars to create badly needed child care. He’s also made insanely glib comments about climate change, the world’s most pressing issue and one that matters more the younger you are.
Last month, Kelly visited an urban studies class at the University of Toronto; one student who was there, 20-year-old Melissa Vincent, found the discussion very disappointing. “When an issue of any depth came up, Norm was unable to answer,” says Vincent, music editor at Canada’s largest independent student newspaper who describes herself as a “black female.”
One classmate wanted to discuss the racialization of poverty in Scarborough – like many suburban Toronto neighbourhoods, it keeps getting less white and more poor – and referenced the seminal Three Cities report that came out of U of T’s Cities Centre, where the talk was held. Kelly replied with a pat answer about immigrant success, along the lines of “immigrants are the highest-earning individuals in Canada.”
“He was really, really disinterested in digging deeper,” Vincent says of Kelly’s appearance. The politician closed off with a mini-lecture on how rap began.
I’m not saying Kelly can’t be cool because he’s old – have you seen Joan Didion’s ad for Céline? I’m also not saying he can’t be cool because he’s white. Lots of white people are cool, some even cool enough not to suck up all the oxygen in the room. There are also some semi-cool politicians, though their attempts usually wear a photo-op veneer – whether it’s our new first couple, JustSo, embracing in Vogue, or Barack Obama playing ball with George Clooney.
There’s no overt reason that an old, white politician can’t be cool – it’s just not the point. Kelly is not an entertainer and being cool isn’t his job. This month, in a lengthy profile in Toronto Life magazine, he says that his Twitter feed has become work. The councillor (whose salary is $108,000) spends hours a day drafting tweets and tracking his stats. That’s simply embarrassing and, as the Fords might say, a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The job of a city councillor is to make Toronto a better, more livable place. That isn’t achieved by lobbying teenagers for retweets and likes. Ok @norm, I get it, you’re a totally cool 6 Dad – but a dad’s real job is to take care of us.Report Typo/Error