Rookie politician battles for name recognition

For one of the younger candidates in Toronto’s upcoming municipal election, running for city council is a dream come true. The biggest challenge so far has been generating name recognition.

Natalie Maniates, 26, is running for city council in Ward 26, or Don Valley West, the same ward that mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield has represented since 2000. This is Maniates’ first run at local politics and the main objective of her campaign is simply getting Don Valley West voters to know who she is.

“The main strategy is getting my name out there,” Maniates says. “The trick is making that connection with voters in person.”

Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall understands and says meeting prospective voters is an important component of a good campaign, even though a candidate must face the possibility of rejection.

“I think one of the big things is feeling comfortable approaching strangers and saying ‘Will you support me?’” Hall says.

Certain instincts can be helpful

Hall also says the best way to overcome anxieties when approaching constituents is to just to take the plunge and speak to them.“It’s a learned skill, like everything, and it’s not just natural,” she says. “Although there are certain instincts that can be helpful.”

Maniates says most of her interaction with residents has been positive, although many people are surprised by her age.

“I did a lot of knocking on doors and last night the first comment I got was, ‘Wow you’re really young,’” she says. “I’m 26, and it’s Ward 26, the reason I’m running is that I’m interested in building the city 20 years from now, and that is 2026.”

And Maniates has big ideas for the city if she’s elected; she plans to ensure that Toronto’s parks and infrastructure are well maintained.

“The city’s only thinking of temporary solutions and they’re not looking at the bigger picture,” Maniates says. “Shipping our garbage to Michigan is not a viable option and (city council) is creating this illusion that we’ll be able to ship it there until 2010, which is only three years away. We’re really not going farther ahead than we are today.”

Maniates’s campaign seems to be gaining momentum. She’s secured endorsements from Global TV journalist and former federal Conservative candidate Peter Kent and Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, whom she describes as a long-time friend and role model. Maniates also credits her team of volunteers as well as her parents.

Friends and family rally to her

“I have my sorority sisters (and) friends from high school. I have neighbours, conservative friends and I have liberal friends and former colleagues that have all sort of rallied around my campaign, which is a humbling feeling,” she says.

Hall says that having friends and family close during a political campaign is essential to maintaining one’s sanity during stressful moments.

“People can be very polite and generous, but they can also be vicious, and it’s important to have people there to give you a hug at the right moment or say ‘we’re there’ and help with the work,” she says.

A potential politician must also be prepared for some of the sacrifices that come with a political life, Hall says. “Politics is a life as opposed to a job,” Hall says. “I say that as someone who loved politics and I think that one gains an enormous amount of satisfaction and knowledge about a community and its residents, but you don’t get to go to the movies and relax a whole lot.”

Maniates seems prepared for the challenges. “I’ve always had the political bug,” she says. “I was involved in campus politics at U of T and I’ve been involved ever since.”

Maniates says that her personal political hero is Sir Winston Churchill.

“Churchill had the ability to appeal to broad cross-sections of voters and I really see myself as a bridge builder, and especially in municipal politics that’s what’s required,” Maniates says.