In the battle for the vacant council seat for Ward 20, former federal NDP candidate Joe Cressy appears to have the early lead, but he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I’m going at it 16 hours a day, knocking on doors, at farmers’ markets, at transit stops in the morning,” he says.
It’s become something of a year-long occupation for Cressy, who campaigned this spring for the federal seat in the area vacated by current mayoral candidate Olivia Chow. He was bested in that contest by former Ward 20 councillor Adam Vaughan.
“Literally, from the day he’d announced, I’d knock on doors and people would say, ‘We think this is perfect. We’ll vote for Adam and you can run for city council,’” Cressy says. “I started reflecting on it; what are the issues I care about? Transit, affordable housing — this is where you can have impact and drive that agenda now.”
The 30-year-old Cressy, who grew up in the ward and is the son of two former city councillors, says he’s long been involved in social justice issues and has been an active supporter of LGBT rights around the world. He’s previously told Xtra about work he did supporting a burgeoning LGBT organization in Ghana, including smuggling education materials, condoms and sex toys into the country during his student days.
While his international concerns initially drew him to seek federal office, Cressy now says he will “absolutely not” run again federally for the NDP in 2015.
On LGBT issues, Cressy says he supports the creation of an LGBT youth shelter and wants to see the city take an active role in promoting trans rights.
“One of the key issues for our time is around trans rights,” he says. “Equality doesn’t have jurisdiction. If the feds aren’t acting, we should. When you stand up for equality, you do it at every level.”
But ultimately, Cressy says, the biggest issue facing Ward 20 is the pressure from new development. Listing off three big developments coming to the area — Honest Ed’s/Mirvish Village, The Well at Front and Spadina, and the Mirvish/Gehry condos at King and John — he says the new towers must incorporate whole neighbourhoods in their design.
“Just these sites will shape these neighbourhoods for the next 150 years,” he says. “If you’re planning development with an eye to planning for children and families, you’d have green space, you’d have the necessary infrastructure around community centres and libraries, and you’d have safe, convenient pedestrian and cycling streets.”
Although a recent poll shows Cressy with a commanding 47 percent support, there will be 24 people listed on the ballot for the vacant seat. Among them is openly gay community activist Graham Hollings, best known in the ward for organizing opposition to a proposed Walmart on Bathurst Street.
“That campaign was about pushing for the type of development that was more compatible with the neighbourhood. We got a commitment to no Walmart, mixed-use building, wider sidewalk with trees and bicycle infrastructure with parking,” Hollings says.
Hollings works in adult education at the Toronto District School Board and says he’s also been successful in lobbying for increased support for family literacy programs.
Unsurprisingly, he also says the biggest issue facing the ward is the development boom. He says what sets him apart from the other candidates is his direct experience working on development issues.
“I’ve been very actively engaged with neighbourhood issues for the past 20 years,” he says. “We’re talking about some of the same stuff, but I don’t get the sense that many of the people I’m running against have a great experience working on development issues. I’ve gone to committee-of-adjustment meetings and Ontario Municipal Board meetings and deputed on them and really gotten involved in the process.”
Two other openly gay candidates had registered to run but eventually dropped out. Reg Hartt, who’s known for running the Cineforum, has thrown his support behind Joe Cressy. Dean Maher, a community organizer from the City Place neighbourhood, has decided to support Terri Chu, an environmentalist and energy expert.
Also on the ballot is Mike Yen, a one-time Progressive Conservative Party candidate returning for a second attempt after placing a distant second in 2010, and former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson.