With 7 Days To Go The Mayoral Race Gets Red Hot!

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This was never going to be a ho-hum election. It was never going to be as riveting and unpredictable as Toronto's changing of the guard, but transitioning from the McCallion dynasty to a new era was never going to be smooth or without the requisite (and necessary) arguments, attacks and debates. 

While all the candidates -- particular frontrunners Steve Mahoney and Bonnie Crombie -- had been quietly campaigning since announcing their candidacies, the race for the city's top spot really kicked off in September with a rash of robust televised debates, media interviews and campaign stops and fundraisers. Throughout much of the campaign, former city councillor and Liberal MP and MPP Mahoney held a small but consistent lead over Crombie, his city councillor rival. 

It looked like the lead was there to stay. 

While the two candidates have remarkably similar platforms, Mahoney appears to be a scrappier, bolder politician. During debates, he seems less concerned about being pleasant and congenial than he does about asserting his ideas and experience. 

Crombie, though equally focused on policy, makes more overt attempts to woe voters with charm. Her goal, it seems, is to sell her youthful, tech savvy persona as a perfect fit for a hipper, newer and chicer Mississauga. 

Mahoney is more straight-laced, but his quips and subtle eye-rolls and quietly conveyed exasperation with questions he sees as irrelevant (such as when fellow candidate Grant Isaac tried to draw a comparison between him and Rob Ford because both have family members running for city council) give him an air of both confidence and competence. 

It's no surprise that both candidates are well liked. 

What also isn't surprising is the apparent surge in the polls that Crombie has enjoyed since Hazel unofficially endorsed her at a fundraiser before Thanksgiving. 

According to a Forum Research Poll, Hazel's support rocketed Crombie into the lead, giving her a whopping 25-point advantage over Mahoney. While it remains to be seen if the polling levels out over the next week (some of you might recall an eventually meaningless Mitt Romney surge after his first debate with a then-lackluster Obama back in 2012), the initial results (though they're being challenged by Mahoney) aren't terribly surprising. 

As we mentioned in a previous story, some residents are absolutely terrified of losing Hazel. If you look at the comments on any election story, you'll see a number of anxious posts whose author's conflate the Mayor's health with the city's, as though Mississauga is only prosperous and operational because Hazel is. When people become uniquely attached to a city's leader -- and there is no denying Hazel and Mississauga are unique -- the prospect of change is scarier than usual. For this reason, some people immediately throw their support behind the person their outgoing leader supports. They see a "chosen" successor as an ideal one. In fact, we received one comment on a story that said, and I'm paraphrasing, that Hazel would never let the wrong person run her city. 

This sentiment makes sense, but it's irrational. The city has never been just about Hazel. It is, at its core, a democracy managed by a slue of people of all backgrounds and political persuasions. It's not a dictatorship and it never has been -- and as much as everyone loves their iconic Mayor, they should know that it will continue to function and thrive and operate as it always has long after she is gone as mayor.  

If you remove loyalty and attachment to Hazel from the equation, the election looks a little more interesting -- and a little brighter for the Mahoney camp. 

While Mahoney's weekend endorsement from flamboyant hockey man Don Cherryisn't going to change the course of the Hurricane Hazel winds blowing in Crombie's direction (even sports fans should remember that Don Cherry threw his support behind Rob Ford and called his opponents and detractors "pinkos" as though it was still 1952), it is important to remember that it is one of many endorsements he's received. 

 it is important to remember that it is one of many endorsements he's received. 

In fact, there's a good rundown of Mahoney's endorsements here. According to The Star, Mahoney's team believes Crombie's surge is overstated because the results were collected from robo-calls pushed out right after Hazel's support became public. 

Whether or not the polls will settle is unknown, but what is known is that Mahoney is still gaining support. Conservative MPs Brad Butt and Bob Dechert and Liberal MPPs Harinder Takhar and Bob Delaney have endorsed him. He also received the support of rival candidates Stephen King (who has been a very distant third throughout the race). There are also rumours that he might receive an endorsement from Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa. 

Oh -- and Mahoney's wife, outgoing ward 8 councillor Katie Mahoney -- is openly furious with Madame Mayor for supporting Crombie after she initially announced that she would remain neutral throughout the election. 

What is clear, at this juncture, is that Hazel's unofficial endorsement was a game changer. The outgoing Mayor -- not council, not interest groups, not other politicians -- is the city's kingmaker. 

That speaks volumes about Hazel's success, but it speaks poorly of the voting public's awareness. Because Crombie and Mahoney's platforms are so similar, it was reasonable for them to be neck and neck in the polls. Mahoney's slight lead made sense given his larger share of support from interest groups, unions and other government officials. Hazel's endorsement shouldn't necessarily hold little (or no) weight, but the fact that it appears to hold so much shows that the city is unwilling to part with its Mayor and is voting out of fear of change rather than active, informed preference for one platform over another. 

Now is not the time to cling to the idea of Hazel 2.0. Now is the time to honor her incredibly long and storied service while seeking to understand the real challenges facing the city and assessing how to move forward with new leadership. It's time to look at platforms (similar though they may be) and analyze who is getting more and varied support and why. It's time to accept and embrace the big changes ahead while keeping in mind that, in the end, things aren't going to feel quite so different as you think. Change is normal. There's nothing to be afraid of.

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