Adam Vaughan, who quit his job as CITY-TV's opinionated political reporter last week to run for city council, says he is enjoying a newfound freedom in life as an aspiring politician.
No more demanding daily deadlines. No more editors and producers telling him to stop injecting his own thoughts into news stories, as he often did. And no more having to force everything he wanted to say into a minute and a half for the 6 o'clock news.
In a long conversation over a beer on the sunny patio of a Kensington Market café, he jumps from tangent to tangent, scattering detailed ideas and schemes like buckshot to improve every corner of the downtown ward he hopes to represent: Kensington Market needs more garbage bins; Alexandra Park needs a co-operatively owned underground parking lot; the condominiums springing up like weeds need to be more family-friendly and better designed.
"It's not a quick and easy answer for me. And that's one of the things that I need to work on, is to make it into what you guys [the media]need, which is a slogan," Mr. Vaughan said, despite spending nearly a decade and a half trafficking in sound bites.
Mr. Vaughan, 44, says he never considered himself a conventional journalist, but an activist. "I don't look at it as leaving journalism. I look at it as, where can I help?"
He describes himself as an independent progressive outsider; he is running with no party backing, against the fiercely well-organized local NDP, which intends to fight hard to hang onto the ward, vacated when Olivia Chow won her federal seat.
Helen Kennedy, a former Chow aide, veteran political and neighbourhood activist and former East York councillor, won the NDP nomination for the ward this week.
Plus, local politics, in one form or another, is the family business. His late father was Colin Vaughan, a CITY-TV political reporter, architect and a city councillor in the 1970s under Mayor David Crombie. His mother, Nettie Vaughan, helped to found legal clinics across the city, and joined her husband in the fight to stop the Spadina Expressway in the late 1960s.
And there is the Jane Jacobs factor. Ms. Jacobs, the world-renowned urban thinker who died last month, fought alongside his parents against the Spadina Expressway and knew Adam from an early age.
Mr. Vaughan said she was "excited and supportive" about his plan to run. A letter of endorsement was drafted for her to sign, he said, but it fell by the wayside as her condition worsened."It's not a endorsement, because it's not a [signed]letter," Mr. Vaughan said. "It means more privately to me than it would ever mean publicly."
Word of that letter had Ms. Kennedy, who peppered her speech this week at her NDP nomination meeting with references to Ms. Jacobs, congratulating her competitor. "I think that's great. If that's the case, congratulations Adam, you know, any endorsement like that is very significant. I have Olivia Chow's endorsement, which is very significant to me."
Still, Mr. Vaughan is certainly in for a battle. He says he was warned by federal NDP Leader Jack Layton and Mayor David Miller to stay out of Trinity-Spadina, and was even offered party backing to run in other wards. But he decided to run downtown, in the ward where he lived and worked until two years ago, when he moved just outside its western boundary.
Mr. Vaughan, who ran Ryerson's CKLN radio station in the 1980s and has been a reporter and producer for CBC Radio and TV before filling the vacancy at CITY-TV left after his father's death, wouldn't reveal who was on his campaign team. He promised that at his June launch he would unveil a "broad coalition" of neighbourhood activists and members of all three political parties. His campaign manager is Rob Moore, who was director of communications for former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall.
Mr. Vaughan and Ms. Kennedy both cite protecting the ward's established neighbourhoods from runaway development as their No. 1 priority. "To me it's really about neighbourhood politics," Mr. Vaughan said, coming as close as he would during our two-hour discussion to distilling his platform. "It's a lifelong understanding that neighbourhoods know how to produce good neighbourhoods."
But Mr. Vaughan says the "old guard" at City Hall has ignored downtown residents as it allows massive development and skimps on reinvesting in their neighbourhoods.
Ms. Kennedy, whom Mr. Vaughan includes as a member of that old guard, said her opponent's criticism "shows his own inexperience." She said that, as part of Ms. Chow's staff, she has worked hard with residents' groups to force developers to compromise on height and density, knowing the Ontario Municipal Board's tendency to rule in developers' favour.
With the recent memory of failed campaigns by Peter Kent and Ben Chin, Professor Myer Siemiatycki, who teaches politics at Ryerson University, warned that face recognition from a television career does not necessary trump a massive electioneering door-knocking machine of the kind the NDP has in the ward.
"Name recognition is one factor. An election team and a well-oiled organization is another definite and distinct advantage. And Helen Kennedy is probably inheriting the best one in the city."
But having been a TV personality clearly helps. Walking through Kensington Market, Mr. Vaughan keeps running into people he knows, or who think they know him.
"When are you going to run for mayor?" a smiling grey-haired lady asks in Mediterranean-accented English as she shakes Mr. Vaughan's hand.
"Elect me your councillor first and we'll see," he beams, joking and promising to appoint her campaign manager if he does.