James: What I like about Rocco Rossi

October 11, 2010

Royson James

http://www.thestar.com/news/torontomayoralrace/article/873753–james-what-i-like-about-rocco-rossi?bn=1

 

Last in a series on the Toronto mayoral candidates.

Rocco Rossi may be worth a second look. Or a first real examination from an electorate transfixed on Rob Ford.

Two weeks before election day is not the ideal time to be assessing a person’s worth — Rossi was the first to declare his candidacy for Toronto mayor back in January — but the release of his full platform last week portrays a candidate of substance and value. The many undecided voters would do well to examine his policy positions. There is much to like.

If you’re tired of career politicians running your city, Rossi is a reasonable alternative to the other three front-runners: Joe (three decades at city hall) Pantalone, George (deputy premier) Smitherman and Rob (10-year councillor) Ford.

Rossi would get in office, do the job, get out, and even subject himself and his council to voter recall, should the public be dissatisfied with their work. He’d take less of your money in salaries, freeze spending but not promise tax cuts, cut the size of council and help you “take back your city hall.”

Rossi is smart, measured, dogged and well-studied. He’s shown in this campaign for mayor that he can rumble with the politicians, address the complex issues facing the city and think outside the box. In fact, it is this penchant for unconventional thinking that might have branded him on the fringe of the so-called front-runners.

His campaign became known for controversial ideas. First, he promised to sell Toronto Hydro to help pay down the city’s ballooning debt. Then he promised two kilometres of subway a year, something many citizens have craved for decades. And then, the clincher came when he promised he would study the construction of a tunnel linking the aborted Allen Expressway with the defunct Spadina Expressway, long killed by citizen activism.

The combination was too much for commentators and skeptics and Rossi was dismissed as an also-ran. But then, slowly, he started to gain a footing. And the release of his fiscal plan — considered conservative compared to his opponents — earned him kudos from those who have been criticizing him. The positive reviews may have saved his candidacy just when it was dissolving into irrelevancy.

Rossi entered the race at a time when voters were looking for a moderate, fiscally conservative and socially progressive candidate to arrest the expansionist mode of the David Miller years. The desire was — and likely still is — to renovate, not demolish and rebuild.

His “outsider” mantra has resonance, but who exactly is he? What’s his record? What’s he done? And for whom?

The son of poor Italian immigrants, Rossi earned academic scholarships to prestigious schools — Upper Canada College, McGill University and Princeton. He’s held corporate positions at Labatt Interbrew, Boston Consulting Group and the Toronto Star. In 2004 he became CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, helping it raise half a billion dollars. He’s also a big wig backroom player in the federal Liberal party.

Rossi’s early platform positions placed him to the right of the political spectrum, prompting analyses that concluded he was courting the right. Ford entered the race, outflanked Rossi on the right, leaving him without a constituency.

If elected, he’d push for term limits on council, cut council in half and add four deputy mayors elected across the city; propose Internet voting for elections; and institute a minimum 10-minute grace period at parking meters.

Of the candidates, he seems most passionate about growing the city’s economy. He’d increase investment in the arts, find a permanent solution to the school polls closing saga; clean up graffiti; and turn 16 underused public schools into neighbourhood community centres.

Rossi may have found his groove too late to become the first person in a century to become Toronto mayor without first serving as a city councillor. For those like me who think city hall would benefit enormously from an outsider sitting in the mayor’s chair, Rossi fits the bill.

“Entering politics should be a calling to public service, not just another job or career. My philosophy is, get elected — get the job done — then move aside and let new people with fresh ideas serve the public,” he says

Refreshing. But that’s what you get from someone on the outside looking in.

Royson James usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: rjames@thestar.ca

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