Out lesbian Helen Kennedy, who had been executive assistant to Olivia Chow for seven years, will carry the NDP banner in her former boss’s ward in this fall’s municipal elections.
Kennedy beat out fellow New Democrat Tam Goosen at a nomination meeting on May 23. The party held a special meeting to pick a candidate to support in Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, in November’s election. More than 600 members turned out to vote.
Kennedy and Goosen signed an agreement before voting that whoever lost the nomination would agree to withdraw from the municipal race.
Kennedy’s stiffest competition will come from CityTV reporter Adam Vaughan, who declared his candidacy just a few days before the NDP meeting. Vaughan, running with no party affiliation, seems to be trying to follow his father’s career path in reverse; the late Colin Vaughan started his career in municipal politics before becoming a media personality.
Official NDP nomination vote counts weren’t released, but an article in the Toronto Star last week suggested Kennedy’s win was tight — only 23 votes. In the article Goosen supporters alleged dirty tricks by Kennedy’s campaign, claiming a busload of Goosen’s supporters was shipped off to Casino Niagara the night of the nomination.
Not true, says Kennedy, who says she has “no clue” where the allegations are coming from.
“The [voting] numbers weren’t released. I honestly don’t know what the numbers are,” says Kennedy.
When contacted by Xtra, Goosen didn’t suggest any dirty tricks. She isn’t throwing her support behind the winner, either.
“I’m not endorsing [Kennedy],” says Goosen. “I’m only withdrawing my name from the ballot.”
Kennedy is promising to reach out to her former opponent in the wake of her victory.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Tam since the nomination,” says Kennedy. “We’ll talk about it and move forward.”
“I had a lot of support in the Chinese community,” says Kennedy. “That combined with the neighbourhood support throughout the ward made the difference winning the nomination.”
Kennedy lives outside the ward, near St Lawrence Market.
A native of Ireland, Kennedy emigrated to Toronto in 1979, got active in local politics and worked for the Ontario NDP from 1985 to 1999. She also served as a city councillor in the former municipality of East York from 1988 to 1991.
Kennedy was Chow’s executive assistant from 1999 until 2006 when Chow won the federal Trinity-Spadina seat.
Chow’s support of Kennedy in the nomination fight was crucial to her victory, many observers say, considering Goosen had obtained endorsements far and wide, particularly from queer organizations and individuals.
Vaughan didn’t reply to an interview request by Xtra’s deadline. Kennedy says she suspects he’s going to paint her as the establishment candidate backed by a political party.
“When was the last time an out lesbian was labelled the establishment candidate?” she laughs. “I don’t think you can fault someone for having experience.”
Kennedy says she shares the same progressive beliefs as her former boss, only with a different style. But she was at a loss to describe how her style was different from Chow’s, except to say, “She’s a lot cuter, for starters.”
“We’re just different personality types,” says Kennedy.
“I can’t think of anything else that I’d rather be doing than this,” she says. “It’s a natural transition for me. I know all the players. I know the neighbourhoods. I’m not the establishment. We’ve been working to change the establishment.”
The last out lesbian to run for city council was Chris Phibbs in Toronto-Danforth in 2003. Despite her leftist politics, Phibbs did not seek the NDP endorsement and was beaten by New Democrat-supported Paula Fletcher. Phibbs now works in Mayor David Miller’s office.
Kyle Rae, councillor for Toronto Centre-Rosedale, remains the first and only openly gay politician at Toronto City Hall.