On Friday February 12, local performance artist and provocateur Keith Cole announced his plan to run for mayor in the Toronto municipal election next October. Amidst cheers, as well as some shocked faces, he told the crowd that it was time for change.
“For the last six years I have felt that this city has been nothing but a long, dry hack of a cough,” he said. “In 2010 we actually have the opportunity to change how the City of Toronto is going to be run and how it is going to be organized. It is up to you.”
Since Cole is best known for his outrageous stage antics and unconventional approach to drag performance, many were surprised by his announcement. The most common question that comes up when his candidacy is mentioned is whether he is actually serious about his intentions.
“Yes, I am totally serious about running for mayor,” Cole says, on the phone from his Jarvis and Wellesley apartment. “I went down to City Hall on Tuesday, paid my $200, and got the big binder of information and rules they give out to candidates.”
The process began three months ago at a dinner party, when someone asked Cole if he’d ever thought about running for mayor.
“Immediately this little light went on,” he says. “It’s actually not that far fetched an idea. In a lot of other countries there are wacky people in government, like Cicciolina, the ex-porn star who’s a member of parliament in Italy. Toronto is lagging behind in this area. We need to get some people who are not politicians into government.”
Cole sees the fact that he is not a career politician as an important asset to his campaign.
“I’m bringing something totally fresh to Toronto politics,” he says. “I’m not beholden to condo developers or Bay Street bankers the way some other politicians are. I don’t have to watch what I say or please certain people.”
Cole is running on a campaign that includes strengthening civic engagement in Toronto.
“I want to encourage people to be involved in making their city better,” he says. “Part of that is just about making people feel like are able to do that.”
He cites the example of a streetlight in his neighbourhood that had been out of commission for almost two weeks.
“People were complaining about it but no one was doing anything,” he says. “I found the appropriate number in the phone book, called the department, and within an hour there were workers fixing it. That’s the power of civic engagement and I want people to understand that we can all play a role in making our city better.”
Cole also pledges to make the city 100 percent bike friendly. “I’m a cyclist 365 days a year and being a bike friendly city is the way of the future,” he says. “I know some drivers are going to be up in arms about it, but I think of it like eliminating smoking in restaurants. People are just going to have to get over it.”
Not surprisingly, Cole also has a strong commitment to arts and culture as part of his platform. Though artists can never seem to have enough money, Cole stresses that our approach to the arts needs to be about more than that.
“It’s not just about funding the arts. It’s also about fostering the arts,” he says. “Our politicians should be promoting Toronto arts and culture abroad every time they speak. Ten years ago, no one ever talked about the environment and now you can’t run as a politician without an environmental strategy. I hope that ten years from now it will be standard for all political candidates and parties to have a solid arts and culture strategy.”
So, does he actually think he can win?
“Municipal elections have some of the lowest voter turn-out in the country,” he says. “In the 2006 election almost two thirds of eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot and I think that’s largely because they felt like their vote didn’t matter and that things can’t be different. If those same people all voted for me this year, I’d win.”
Watch an interview with Cole (wearing his curatorial hat) here.
Watch Cole’s announcement at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on Feb 12: