This crazy civic election campaign has been about many things, most of them divisive.
We’ve had allegations of racebaiting aimed at Mayor Naheed Nenshi, which is frankly absurd, since he was talking about vicious internet hatred and is himself a daily target of racial slurs.
On Thursday came Coun. Ward Sutherland’s apparent reference to “Johnny Jew from New York,” when he was talking contemptuously about public art during a Ward 1 forum.
Sutherland insists he was talking about a famous New York designer with the last name of “Choo,” who does not appear to exist, although there is a British fashion house named Jimmy Choo.
Sutherland invites people to watch the video clip online. Really, you should. Sutherland is blessed with very clear diction.
Thursday afternoon, Nenshi called out opponent Bill Smith for his inconsistencies over the Green Line LRT project.
Smith has said, for instance, that he wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize funding, but also insists the line should go either north or south, even though that would cancel provincial funding.
Overall, there’s a bitter conservative-progressive divide that trickles down from the Nenshi-Smith battle even to the school board election.
United Conservative Party leadership candidate Jason Kenney tweeted support for a socially conservative slate running for the Calgary Board of Education.
The temptation is to invite him to run for trustee himself, since he’s run for just about everything else in the past year.
NDP Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason stuck his nose in too, taking Nenshi’s side on the Green Line funding. He’s no more welcome in a civic campaign.
The UCP-type conservatives long to take control of the city, both in education and civic government. Smith is their man for mayor.
That would be a remarkable coup, because no true conservative has occupied the mayor’s office in decades. Even Ralph Klein, when he won in 1980, wasn’t yet a conservative.
Calgarians have generally turned up their noses at party divisions on city council. They’ve always focused on the city’s real business — roads, potholes, snow clearing and services.
Nenshi is the first mayor since Al Duerr to speak more broadly of a tolerant, inclusive and welcoming society with an exciting downtown.
That attitude, and Nenshi’s identity as a non-white Muslim, for a time, made him world famous.
But the latest Mainstreet Research poll for Postmedia shows that taxes are by far the biggest issue of the campaign.
Fully 27 per cent of Smith backers say they like his promise to hold the line on taxes, which have risen 51 per cent since Nenshi was first elected in 2010.
An earlier Mainstreet poll showed taxes are the main issue for fully 38 per cent of all voters. Next came public transit, at only eight per cent.
People do have other reasons for supporting Smith. Thirteen per cent say it’s time for a change. Seventeen per cent find he reflects their values.
Twenty-two per cent of Nenshi supporters like his ability to represent Calgary to the province and the outside world.
Surprisingly, only 10 per cent back him because of his support for diversity.
Nenshi’s support is on such “soft” issues. The property tax problem, by contrast, makes many people furious. Smith appears to own that base.
Council froze residential taxes in June, but homeowners are still on the hook for all the hikes since 2010. And businesses remain vulnerable to big, erratic hikes.
There was deep unfairness in this. After the recession eviscerated big business, surviving small businesses had to fill the same tax pot.
Although Nenshi voiced concern, he never seemed to sense the full power of the tax issue.
The race appears to be tightening. Smith’s lead has declined, according to Mainstreet. Many minds could change over the weekend.
Nenshi’s big corps of volunteers is now highly motivated. They’re very good at getting out the vote. Nenshi has a database of supporters that Smith can’t begin to match.
But there’s still a chance that on Monday, the most local of worries could bring down the most international of mayors.