By: David Rider Urban Affairs Feature Writer, Published on Wed Oct 15 2014
Incumbent Frank Di Giorgio faces a tough challenge from three candidates who accuse him of doing little: Nick Dominelli, John Nunziata, Lekan Olawoye.
Sitting on her Bourdon Ave. porch, senior citizen Maria Mucci fights back tears, sounding hopeless, with no idea where to turn.
The July 2013 storm overwhelmed city pipes and flooded basements in the area, including hers. The contractor she hired took off. “It’s still a big mess,” says the forlorn Mucci.
“In our community the number one issue is lack of representation,” argues Nick Dominelli , one of three candidates trying to unseat Frank Di Giorgio (open Frank Di Giorgio's policard) , Ward 12 York-South Weston’s city councillor for the past 14 years.
At a Rogers TV debate it was Di Giorgio choking back tears, defending his work for Ward 12 residents. He protested: “Transformational change takes time!” during one of many attacks on his record from rivals Dominelli, politician-turned-lobbyist John Nunziata and Lekan Olawoye , executive director of the non-profit agency For Youth Initiative .
In an interview, Di Giorgio, 68, who beat Dominelli by only 422 votes in the last election, is his usual amiable self but clearly feels the pressure of a fight for political survival after almost three decades in public office.
“They don’t know what I’ve done,” Di Giorgio says of his rivals. “They don’t have to worry about all those promises and where the money’s coming from. They say, ‘It’s a strong voice that’s required.’ I have a very resonating voice, and I’m telling you — if I can’t find the money, nobody can.”
More worryingly, he admits, some voters also seem in the dark about benefits including a “huge amount” of money coming for sewers. One is angry Di Giorgio hasn’t delivered on an old promise to get a road paved.
“The city defers, defers, defers” such expenditures, says Di Giorgio who, in 2013, became Mayor Rob Ford (open Rob Ford's policard) ’s budget chief .
Ward 12 stretches from Highway 401 south to around Rogers Rd. and from the Kitchener GO line east to the CN Rail line. It has a mix of houses, apartment blocks, small-scale retail and heavy industry.
The average household income in 2010 was only $61,271, far below the $87,038 city average. The 54,000 residents include many with Italian, Portuguese, Caribbean and Asian heritage.
Toronto’s building boom has been slow to hit here but residents hope the coming Eglinton Crosstown LRT will boost businesses and bring jobs.
Other issues include the future of the former Kodak plant lands, youth unemployment, violent crime, chronic flooding and supports for seniors.
Dominelli, a 42-year-old restaurateur and former city economic development policy officer, says people kept his cellphone number from the last campaign and have called him when Di Giorgio couldn’t or wouldn’t help them out.
As councillor, he says, he would strike an advisory committee representing all the ward’s ethnic groups and push hard to improve conditions for local TCHC residents, get infrastructure upgraded to stop flooding, revitalize former industrial lands and ensure Ingram Rd. is expanded to Caledonia Rd.
“We also need bike lanes — people want to connect to downtown,” he says.
Olawoye, 29, was born in Nigeria and raised by a single mom in a TCHC building in Rexdale. A social-work degree led to a master’s degree at the University of Toronto, the non-profit that gives opportunities to youths in low-income neighbourhoods, and chairmanship of the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities .
He says his platform is the only one formed from resident input at doorsteps. Promises include a focus on jobs and youths — including a mentor for any in the ward who would benefit — plus responding to inquiries within 48 hours and fighting for better bus service.
“This election is a choice: Do you want the same people, the same politics, or new ideas, new opportunity, a fresh start?” he says.
Nunziata, 59, lashed out at Olawoye during the Rogers debate, saying his endorsements show he is a “puppet for the unions.” Olawoye shakes his head, saying his duty is to residents and he belongs to no political party.
Sitting in Rustic Bakery, Nunziata is approached by people he met when he was a four-term MP for the area, part of the scrappy Liberal “Rat Pack” and then an independent, and before that a York alderman.
With no kids left in the house, the failed 2003 mayoral candidate says the time is right to jump back into politics, despite a busy practice as a lawyer and city hall lobbyist. His clients have included career colleges, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association and a taxi service for the disabled.
Preparing for Ontario Municipal Board hearings is important, but “it doesn’t turn my crank,” he says. “Practising law is enjoyable but it’s not fulfilling.”
“Experience counts. I know all the people at city hall on a first-name basis,” and can get action, he says. He is promising to try to get half the property taxes of homeowning seniors waived until their home sells, but hasn’t worked out details.
Nunziata also wants to gather lawyers and accountants to help needy Ward 12 seniors, free of charge, with wills, power of attorney and income taxes. He is voting for Doug Ford (open Doug Ford's policard) as mayor, explaining they became friendly visiting family at the same retirement home. “I consider Doug a friend, and where I come from, you support friends.”
Di Giorgio, first elected as a North York councillor, is not making any big promises. He says he will continue being a persuasive, reasonable voice and wants to see the fruits of his more than a decade fighting for Ward 12.
“It takes a long time, and people don’t understand things have to be done sequentially, but we are starting to get the development we need.”