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Toronto Giorgio Mammoliti and the problem with Toronto's 37 incumbent councillors

Giorgio Mammoliti is coming back.

In his 16 years on city council, he has covered himself in glory by, among other things, stripping off his shirt in the council chamber to protest against nude sunbathing on a Toronto beach, calling for a regulated paid-sex zone on the Toronto Islands, and, just this spring, calling the Parkdale neighbourhood a "pedophile district." If that were not enough, police are looking into a 2013 Mammoliti fundraiser that the city's Integrity Commissioner found was in breach of council's code of conduct.

Voters sent him back to city hall anyway, with 46 per cent of the vote against 36 per cent for the second-place finisher. That was an improvement on his 2010 share of about 44 per cent.

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It all goes to show the continuing power of incumbency in Toronto politics. In city elections, where many voters pay only glancing attention to the local ward race, name recognition is invaluable, and sitting councillors almost always have the name that voters know best. Many veterans cling stubbornly to their seats on city council, running over and over and, against all logic, winning.

Monday evening's election seemed, in that respect, like the night of the living dead. While voters opted for change in the mayor's office, they left all but one incumbent councillor in place and re-elected many who really should not go out after sunrise.

Take David Shiner, described on his city website as the "proud representative of Ward 24 – Willowdale." The son of local politician Esther Shiner, he served on North York city council from 1991 to 1997 and has been a grumpy presence on Toronto council since. Or consider Maria Augimeri, who has represented her North York district since 1985, when Ronald Reagan was U.S. president. Both won easily, Mr. Shiner with 55 per cent of the vote, Ms. Augimeri with 43 per cent.

Scarborough's Raymond Cho, in office since 1991, won again. So did Pam McConnell, the councillor who made it onto international newscasts when a charging Rob Ford bowled her over on the floor of the council chamber. She was elected for a seventh term.

This time around, 37 of the 38 incumbents were re-elected. As a result, council has very little new blood. Just seven newcomers will take their seats in December, down from 14 in 2010. That cannot be good for local democracy. Council needs fresh eyes and different perspectives to keep from falling into tired, circular debates. Instead, it will be dominated by the usual suspects.

Many incumbents won by wide margins. Anthony Perruzza took 71 per cent of the vote in his ward, Paul Ainslie 74 per cent, Joe Mihevc 77, Michael Thompson 81, Jaye Robinson 83 and Josh Matlow 86.

The only incumbent who lost, John Parker in Ward 26 – Don Valley West, happened to be a very good one. He was an excellent deputy speaker of council, keeping his head and his impish sense of humour in the thick of the Ford upheavals. He was a sane voice in council's transit battles, too. He lost to Jon Burnside, a food-business owner and former policeman.

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It would be nice to think there was a simple solution to the perennial problem of overstaying councillors. Imposing term limits is one idea. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, first elected in 2010, suggested limiting councillors to three terms. But term limits would curtail some basic rights, like the right of an individual to run for office and right of voters to choose a preferred candidate, even a stale-dated one. They would also curtail the ability of councillors to run again and again, which is why many are bound to vote against any such measure. Ms. McMahon's proposal went nowhere.

It looks as if we are stuck with Mr. Mammoliti. The next election is in 2018, by which time this beacon of representative democracy will have served two decades at city hall.

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