Toronto's mega mayor is down but not
Just 47 per cent of decided voters would cast their ballot for
Mayor Mel Lastman if an election was held today, according to a Star-EKOS
poll conducted last week.
That's a dramatic drop from November 2000 when Lastman was
re-elected with 80 per cent of the popular vote.
However, 73 per cent still rate the mayor's overall performance in
the city's top job as average or good, according to the poll of 404
"There has been a clear decline in his popularity," said EKOS
senior director Christian Boucher, who noted that Lastman's electoral
support has dropped across all income groups and among both men and women.
"But he could probably be re-elected if an election was held and
there was no strong opposition," Boucher said.
"The level of enthusiasm is down, but he's not out."
Boucher said most leaders would expect to see a drop of about 10
percentage points in their popularity 12 months to 18 months after winning
a new mandate.
"But to drop by almost half is quite dramatic," he said.
The results of the telephone poll, conducted during the evenings of
Jan. 16 and 17, are valid within 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of
The poll was conducted in the wake of Lastman's controversial
handshake with a member of the Hells Angels biker gang during a highly
publicized gathering of the group in downtown Toronto last weekend.
A photo of the handshake caused national outrage when it ran in a
The handshake also drew ire from communities like Montreal that are
fighting to rid themselves of the criminal organization.
The biker gang, notorious for drug dealing and prostitution, has
been linked to more than a hundred killings in Quebec.
Toronto police are concerned the group will cause similar problems
here, if its recent growth in Ontario isn't checked.
Many local officers also said the mayor's glad-handing photo was a
slap in the face.
However, Lastman, who said "curiosity" drove him to visit the biker
convention, claimed he didn't know the extent of the gang's criminal
During his first term as mayor of the amalgamated city of Toronto,
Lastman held the line on property tax increases, championed the cause of
the city's homeless and generally managed with a light touch.
But since his re-election, Lastman has been dogged by an
embarrassing paternity suit, international ridicule on the Olympic stage
and political sniping at city hall.
Lastman rocked the city last winter when he acknowledged a 14-year
affair with a married woman that ended in 1971, before he became mayor of
|RON BULL/TORONTO STAR|
|Police Chief Julian Fantino and
Mayor Mel Lastman talk to reporters at City Hall January
However, he denies that he
fathered the woman's two sons who are now suing him for paternity.
Barely recovered from his domestic tribulations, the mayor made
international headlines last June when he jokingly told a reporter he was
worried about being boiled in a pot by cannibals while he visited Mombasa.
Lastman was in Africa to push the city's 2008 Olympic bid shortly before
the vote on where the Games would be held took place.
Such an offensive comment from the mayor of a city billing itself
as the most ethnically diverse and welcoming in the world was a crushing
embarrassment for Toronto on the eve of the Olympic vote.
While the city's eventual loss of the Games to Beijing was not
directly attributed to the remark, it left a sour taste in the mouths of
the thousands of volunteers who had worked for the city's Olympic cause.
After last week's Hells Angels incident, many of Lastman's
political opponents renewed their calls for the mayor to resign.
Lastman's term expires in November, 2003. He has not said whether
he is considering running again.
The mayor's staying power is reflected in the poll results. Fully
62 per cent said the mayor should not resign.
Just 34 per cent said the mayor should quit. The remainder had no
Last summer, the city auditor released a scathing report on the
city's finance department, noting the absence of rudimentary accounting
procedures had lead to millions of dollars worth of questionable
Serious irregularities in a computer leasing deal with MFP
Financial Services Ltd. of Mississauga, in which the city may have
acquired millions of dollars of equipment it didn't need at inflated
prices, is expected to result in a public inquiry.
But at a time when the city's finances are such a mess, 68 per cent
— roughly two in three — still said they had moderate or high confidence
in Lastman's ability to run the city, according to the poll.
Toronto has been severely short-changed by senior governments when
it comes to money and power to keep roads and sewers properly maintained
and social services like homeless shelters and recreation programs
properly staffed, according to city staff.
Despite a looming property tax increase this year, 64 per cent of
those polled said they are moderately or strongly confident that Lastman
can lead the charge for an improved financial deal from the provincial and
When compared to federal or provincial politicians, the precipitous
decline in Lastman's electoral chances is noteworthy, Boucher said.
"I don't think I have seen something as drastic," he said.
"And when everybody agrees things are not going well, that's not
However, on performance and trust measures, Lastman's scores are
more in line with leaders like Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Boucher said.
In an October 2000 Star-EKOS poll, 87 per cent rated Lastman's
performance good or average.
Last week's 14 percentage point drop is significant, Boucher said.
But he noted that a performance rating above 70 per cent is still
`There has been a clear
decline in (Mel Lastman's) popularity. But he could probably be
re-elected if an election was held and there was no strong
opposition. The level of enthusiasm is down, but he's not out. '
EKOS senior director