George Smitherman may be leading Toronto’s mayoral race, but with the majority of Torontonians still undecided, the ex-provincial minister is rebuilding his team, and returning to his party roots.
Jeff Bangs, a Conservative insider, has left the campaign, citing family obligations. Now Bruce Davis, a veteran Liberal organizer and school board trustee, is stepping in as campaign manager. Amanda Klein, another Liberal campaigner, will serve as his deputy.
If Smitherman can maintain his lead for the next seven months, he will become Toronto’s first openly gay mayor.
Davis is pitching Smitherman as a candidate that environmentalists and business leaders can agree on. He says that successful fundraising means he can focus on letting his candidate articulate a vision for the city.
“We’ve spent a lot of time criticizing the city government, criticizing the administration, and a certain amount of that is required,” says Davis. “But I also think there’s an expectation that we have to turn now and focus on the future. I think you’ll see that over the next several weeks.”
Davis has already presided over one successful mayoral campaign, for Mel Lastman. But he isn’t eager to draw a line from Lastman to Smitherman.
“They are two different candidates, different generations, different eras,” says Davis. “George works from early, early in the morning, until late, late at night. He’s a voracious campaigner, so that is refreshing, not just with respect to Mel, but I’ve worked with many, many candidates, and I’ve never seen a candidate work as hard as George.”
Davis, for his part, says that he’s proud of the anti-homophobia work he has been involved with as chair of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Davis was first elected trustee in 2000, in the midst of amalgamation.
“The old Toronto Board of Education, which was very progressive, very out there, was amalgamated,” says Davis. “We had all the suburban and urban trustees coming together, and I must say I was really thrilled to be on the progressive end of that spectrum, and to help, even though I’m from the suburbs. I really wanted to make sure we supported a lot of progressive causes, one of which was really empowering our gay-straight alliances.”
This year, the TDSB is presiding over an expansion of the Triangle Program, Toronto’s alternative high school for queer, trans and questioning students, and Davis says it’s cracking down on homophobic bullying. Davis will continue on as TDSB chair during the campaign.