Not any more

Joe Pantalone misses the hail Mary

In Canada on October 26, 2010 at 09:09

People crossed their arms. Some frowned, others covered their eyes, said it couldn’t be so, or sought consolation in cold beer and paper plates piled high with free lasagna, pizza and bread sticks wrapped in prosciutto.

Anything to distract them from the electoral truth that was staring down from a wall of flat screen televisions at Revival, a bar on College Street, and the final resting place for Joe Pantalone’s mayoral campaign.

When the diminutive man in the grey suit and green tie and gentle manners finally entered the building the mood shifted, palpably. The paper plates were momentarily put aside as a standing ovation erupted, along with a rolling chant of: “Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe!”

Mr. Pantalone had one more speech to give. He thanked his supporters, acknowledged the other candidates for a race well run and cautioned mayor elect, Rob Ford — the anti-Pantalone — who blew away the competition, that the keys to the city’s highest office required a healer’s touch. 

“There is also a divided city that went to the polls,” Mr. Pantalone said. “And he does not have a strong mandate for radical, drastic change — á la Mike Harris.”

Mr. Ford is a high school football coach. In football, you have the Hail Mary pass, a dying-seconds heave by a quarterback that can wrest victory from certain defeat and send fans into paroxysms of joy.

But there is a catch: for a Hail Mary to actually end in a miracle win a team can’t be trailing by more than a touchdown.

In pre-election poll after poll, Mr. Pantalone was down by 30 points. The 58 year old did not need a Hail Mary. He needed a voice of reason to read him his Last Rites. The man was doomed, and maybe even a little deluded, or at least in serious denial about the desire for change in his city.

Voters did not want more David Miller, and the politico nicknamed Joey Pants was Miller Lite, a loyal disciple of a boss with a legacy that smelled a lot like a garbage strike that ended with collectors getting a 6% raise, while the rest of us were getting kicked in the teeth by a recession.

People don’t forget that stuff. Most people, especially the ones stuck in traffic, don’t get overly excited about building bike lanes-a-plenty either, which was the raciest pillar of Mr. Pantalone’s platform.

He had other pillars, too, like connecting the city with “High-speed European style rapid trains,” raising property and commercial taxes and balancing the books through assorted “efficiencies” and land “sales.”

Plus, he had his party line: that the Toronto he loved was in pretty decent shape, and not the financial Titanic his cut, slash and burn fear mongering competitors (see: Mr. Ford and George Smitherman) portrayed it to be.

It was bike lanes and Euro-trains and tax hikes and everything is hunky-dory versus an angry Mr. Ford bellowing about stopping “the gravy train”, versus a (Furious) George Smitherman bellowing about not being Rob Ford — and not raising property taxes.

Hail Mary or not, Joey Pants was a mayoral hopeful without a hope in hell. Last night, the rout was on, and it got ugly. Thirty years in municipal politics garnered him 12% of the vote in the biggest election of his life.

Several hours before the inevitable result had crystallized into a concrete fact the foredoomed candidate was on a busy mid-town street corner being embraced by a young woman he had never met. She was a non-Canadian and a non-voter, with a shock of dyed red hair and a few words to say.

Mr. Pantalone cried when the girl pulled away, real tears, not the crocodile kind so many politicians can produce on command. His was no act. This was a man who loves his city remembering, perhaps, his own remarkable journey and what it was like to land in Toronto at age 13 knowing two words — “yes” and “no” — and then growing up to spend three decades in government before taking a shot at the top job.

Joey Pants’ happy ending did not quite work out in the end. That is the thing about Hail Mary’s: they almost never do.
Even though it was over, it is not quite over yet.

“Joe Pantalone is not going to disappear into the fog at midnight,” he said. “I am very much a proud Torontonian. Because where else in the world would a kid coming in at the age of 13, who spoke only two words of English — because he used to sit in the movies — become the deputy mayor of Canada’s largest city and be a major competitor for mayor?”

National Post

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