■ Negativity enters race for mayor
On Tuesday afternoon, a woman posted a poignant comment on Twitter about mayoral candidate Bob Hawkesworth.
“I was so sad to get the @bobhawkesworth auto-dialer that attacks @Nenshi,” she wrote in Twitter shorthand. “I used to really respect Bob and I know others did too.”
It’s true. For 17 years, Hawkesworth has been the council member most liked and respected by other aldermen. He became the favourite uncle who would listen to all the cousins’ complaints and referee their fights but never criticize anyone. Then he ran for mayor — and the courtly gentleman of city politics became the attack dog of Facebook and demon dialers. His billboards show him in a combative pose I’ve never seen in real life.
Hawkesworth isn’t the only one who seems to be campaigning against his best instincts. Among the also-runners at the low end of the polling pack, there’s a big boom in negativity.
Hawkesworth explained why.
“It’s a crowded field,” he told the Herald’s editorial board, “and if you’re going to be heard above the din of the voices, you’ve got to have a strong voice.”
Another candidate told me criticizing runs against his nature, but it’s the only way he can get any media attention. One day he went negative, got himself quoted, and a longtime friend told him she was startled and disappointed.
Former alderman Craig Burrows, who seemed to be redeeming himself with a solid campaign after his aldermanic loss in 2007, shocked some people at a forum.
Burrows made a nasty personal comment about Ric McIver.
Accusing McIver of flip-flopping on issues, Burrows said: “Ric is the kind of guy you take for dinner and he says, ‘Wait, I’ll get my wallet,’ and then he doesn’t come back.”
Ouch. Burrows meant it to be funny, maybe, but it came across as mean-spirited. And the wisecrack immediately brought back a sour memory about Burrows himself, who lost in 2007 partly because he spent $12,000 in public money on a U of C course.
McIver was quick to allude to that infamous misadventure. In the end, it’s doubtful that Burrows’ comment won him a single vote, or took one from McIver.
Even Wayne Stewart, a man of impeccable personal reputation and achievement, has resorted to criticism. He hasn’t gone nearly as far as Burrows — nobody has — but still, the style doesn’t suit him.
Stewart was a top Shell executive for years, brought huge success to the Calgary Foundation, piloted Calgary’s drive against homelessness — and now this?
The sad thing about the negativity is that most lower-polling candidates actually have solid campaigns behind the bluster.
Burrows is the only candidate who attaches costs to his promises. Hawkesworth has pinned much of his campaign on opposing the airport tunnel — a deadender with most voters, I suspect — but there’s plenty of substance, too.
Stewart wants clearer processes at city hall and a focus on economic diversification. Joe Connelly’s main theme — “Take Back Your City!”— is odd for an alderman, but he offers clear policies, including support for sport and the arts, and an overhaul of parking policy (Connelly hasn’t been negative, either).
Those who attack are mistaking city politics for the provincial or federal scenes, where hostilities are formalized along party lines. We know it’s just Tory attacking Liberal and vice versa.
But a civic campaign is a free-for-all. Insults really are personal. The candidates who resort to them might hurt someone else, but they rarely capture the votes they shake loose.