Filion flip-flop results in win over Cheng
Unprecedented events led to a tumultuous campaign period
In an election that saw the size of council halved a month before voting day, new and seasoned political candidates were faced with unprecedented challenges in a different political landscape.
In the new Ward 18 Willowdale, candidates who were running a noincumbent race suddenly saw their councillor, John Filion, back in the running.
“I actually think that for those of us who have gone through this intense time, there’s probably some PTSD that’s happened for some people based on what happened,” said candidate Lily Cheng, jokingly.
A few years ago, Cheng had founded a group called North York Moms and began working with single mothers in the community. Through her work with North York Moms, she became acquainted with Filion. Early on, he asked her to run, with the expectation that he would be retiring. At the time, she declined.
Then the van attack happened in April, a tragedy that left 10 victims in its wake and shocked the entire community. She was asked to be the representative of Willowdale at the Toronto vigil. It was a line in her speech that convinced her to run.
“I said something like, ‘Let’s not just go back to being busy,’ ” she said. “After a tragedy, we all awakened to the fact that we could contribute to the community, and people were all willing to put aside their busy schedules to do something good. As I said those words, I felt like I was talking to myself. I felt, maybe there’s something greater that I’m supposed to do for this community.”
So she signed up. With Filion as her political advisor, she put together a core team of 10 people, and started knocking on doors.
After council was cut in half in mid-September, Cheng had a tough decision to make: Stay the course and continue campaigning against her mentor in an expanded ward or leave the race and go back to grassroots organization.
“In the end, I decided that I would continue because I felt that just being a woman, a minority and a mom –– all voices that are underrepresented on city council –– I had to persevere,” she said.
Filion had advised her to finish fundraising by the end of August, but after the ward size doubled, that became a major obstacle.
“So we thought we had enough, and then suddenly, we really didn’t have enough,” said Cheng. “I still consider it a miracle that we got to where we did.”
Sonny Cho, an entrepreneur who has ties with the local real estate community, also ran as a candidate. Although he had no trouble securing the fundraising he needed, he felt that time suddenly became a much bigger hurdle.
“We were focused on half the area, and we covered that geography well,” he recalled. “But the other half, by that time, there was only so much we could cover in that short period of time.”
Cho had run municipally eight years previously, against David Shiner, in the former eastern ward of Willowdale. Even when Filion stepped back in the race, Cho kept on campaigning.
“Beating an incumbent is not easy, but we felt that there was enough discontent with John Filion that there was some possibility,” he said. “At the doors, we found that a lot of people were discontent with Mr. Filion or felt that he should have retired and not come back.”
In the end, Filion won with 31.06 per cent of the votes. Cheng trailed 10 points behind him, and Cho finished with 12 per cent of the vote.
Both Cho and Cheng contacted Filion after the results came out.
“I called him on the election night to congratulate him,” he said. “I’m one of the few candidates he actually shakes hands with. We’re on good terms. There are things we disagree with, but John is a good guy.”
Cheng stopped by Filion’s celebration on election night.
“One thing that I’m grateful for is that I don’t attach my value to the success or failure of this campaign,” she said. “I just believed that I would walk out this journey the best I could in the way I was meant to walk it out.”
“There’s probably some PTSD that’s happened for some people based on what happened.”
Ward 18 Willowdale runner-up in the last election, Lily Cheng