East York illustrates vote split

Observers of East York’s political scene are still examining the tea leaves of the Oct. 25 municipal election — and some interesting patterns are discernable. For one thing, it’s clear that East York was on the dividing line between suburban Toronto and downtown, and the corresponding battle between suburbanites and downtowners over the choice for mayor.

When all of the votes were counted, conservative Etobicoke councillor Rob Ford won that race, with 47 per cent of the votes over liberal George Smitherman and his 36 per cent.

But the detailed vote breakdown released later in the week clearly showed that the suburbs voted for Ford, and downtown for Smitherman. East York, meanwhile, was evenly divided between the candidates: Ford got 42 per cent of East York’s support compared to Smitherman’s 41 per cent.

And East York demonstrated a split political personality in other ways. Voters in Ward 29/Toronto-Danforth marked the retirement of conservative councillor Case Ootes (now heading up Ford’s transition team) with the election of left-leaning Mary Fragedakis. Fragedakis garnered 42 per cent of the ballots cast across the ward. Jane Pitfield and Jennifer Wood followed behind with 28 and 24 per cent, respectively.

Chris Yaccato, Pitfield’s campaign manager, blamed the loss on the local NDP party establishment’s endorsement of Fragedakis.

“The NDP had their candidate,” Yaccato said. “Mary Fragedakis had nothing but NDP members supporting her.”

Wood managed to secure a win in the poll subdivision around the Broadview TTC station. Pitfield garnered support around Todmorden Mills, the Greenwood TTC station and her campaign headquarters in the northeast corner of the ward.

Yaccato thinks Pitfield and Wood split the vote of non-NDPers.

“We knew what we were facing.… We knew that Jennifer was going to be a bit of a vote-split,” Yaccato said. “We knew that (there were) two candidates who represented a broad coalition of ideas, but nonetheless, were liberal and conservative. There are only so many of those votes to go around.”

Meanwhile, the race in Ward 26/Don Valley West saw incumbent conservative John Parker earning a second term with a 31 per cent share of the votes. Newcomer Jon Burnside fell close behind with 29 per cent, just ahead of Mohamed Dhanani’s 28 per cent. Dhanani was well-received by voters in Thorncliffe Park. Parker and Burnside split the polls across Leaside, but Parker had surprisingly strong support in Flemingdon Park as well.

Dhanani chalked up his loss to a flawed municipal system.

“Seventy per cent of people in Ward 26 didn’t vote for John Parker in 2010 and he still became a councillor,” Dhanani said. “The advantage just naturally falls to the incumbent… after four years of name recognition and dropping off fridge magnets and newsletters.”

While he has refrained from becoming a card-carrying member of any political party, Dhanani said he thinks that party politics should be introduced on the municipal level.

“For many voters who don’t vote in municipal elections, part of the reason is the decision-making process is a very difficult one,” Dhanani said. “All the candidates start talking about the same things: fiscal responsibility, transit, better services…. At the party level, it’s much more clear where people stand on issues and what particular platform that party is trying to achieve.”

Meanwhile, in Ward 31/Beaches-East York, things were more clear-cut. The incumbent liberal councillor, Janet Davis, took a third term with 63 per cent of the votes. She had a majority of the votes in all subdivisions of the ward.