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Challenger says Wong-Tam is holding back Ward 27

Benjamin Dichter wants Church-Wellesley to be global tourism mecca

Benjamin Dichter says Church Street businesses are struggling because the city isn’t investing enough in making the neighbourhood a destination. Credit: Rob Salerno

In the 10-way race for Ward 27, Benjamin Dichter believes incumbent Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is vulnerable.

Dichter, who owns a print shop near the Ryerson campus and has been knocking on doors since February, says he hears feedback from residents that Wong-Tam’s anti-Ford and leftwing actions as a councillor have turned off a big chunk of the community.

“She is very divisive,” Dichter says. “We have a mayor who’s divisive. When a councillor goes on the local news and explains how they’re not going to work with the mayor, that’s okay for the public to say, but that’s not the councillor’s right. The councillor’s job is to reach out and work with them.”

Dichter says he wants to bring a more pragmatic approach to city hall, even if that means working with one or more Fords. But he also says he believes that the city should work more closely with businesses and developers, citing the example of former Metro chair Frederick Gardiner.

“It’s the role of city council, if they can, to be accommodating to business and developers as long as it fits with the will of the people, because ultimately, it’s those developers who are going to build the city,” he says.

At a campaign event in the Second Cup on Church Street, Dichter, who considers himself an ally of the LGBT community, bemoaned the number of closed shops on the strip. He says the closures are the result of the city not investing enough in making Church Street a desirable destination. WorldPride was a missed opportunity, he says, because the only improvements the neighbourhood saw were the new rainbow crosswalks.

“You saw tourists walking around saying, ‘What’s happening?’ You see all these businesses closed,” he says.

Part of his plan for the neighbourhood involves branding it as a global LGBT centre to increase tourism and business on the strip. While light on specifics, he suggests the city should invest in “cosmetically rebuilding the neighbourhood” and hints that the area ought to have a luxury hotel to cater to LGBT tourists.

“This should be a destination,” he says. “I see this neighbourhood as a hybrid of the Distillery and Miami Beach. Even the most ardent conservatives would be on board, because if you build a serious tourism industry around it, you would solve the city’s revenue problem.”