A group of municipal election candidates and campaigners met recently at the technology non-profit Hackforge downtown to learn about advanced campaign software called NationBuilder that tracks supporters, volunteers, donations and more.
Rose City Politics co-hosts Paul Synnott and Doug Sartori are leading tutorials on the touted program that helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump. Some tutorials also come with sundry advice on how to canvass and where to get signs.
Synnott and Sartori are helping candidates like Joey Wright in Ward 5 and Jim Morrison in Ward 10.
Some have asked for help. Others were invited.
But not just any of the 50 mayoral and council candidates can participate. You have to be “on the ride side” of the issues.
Some people might call it a slate, “for sure,” said Synnott.
It’s not, he says.
“I was getting bombarded with questions by everybody — the same questions,” said Synnott, a political activist and organizer. “So I said, why don’t we get everyone together, and I can answer all their questions.”
He called it “just a group of like-minded people coming together.”
“Anybody we’re working with, we’re not expecting a certain vote on a certain issue,” he said.
The candidates come from across the political spectrum. Synnott is a Conservative. He’s supporting Ward 9 candidate Kieran McKenzie, an NDP organizer. Sartori has helped two candidates on opposite sides of the controversy over the location of the planned new hospital.
They’re also helping public school board candidates like Sarah Cipkar and county candidates like Donald McArthur in Amherstburg.
They’re not pushing these candidates, Synnott said. Sartori called it “just background help with technical matters.”
But, Synnott said, “I don’t think it’s any secret some of us would like to see change in some areas. We want to move in a progressive direction. Obviously I wouldn’t be supporting Fred Francis and teaching him how to use (NationBuilder),” said Synnott, referring to the Ward 1 incumbent who frequently votes with Mayor Drew Dilkens.
Sartori said he’s “certainly not asking folks where they stand on issues.”
But, he also said, “I’m helping the people I think are going to do good things for the community and be on the right side of issues. There are some issues I’m passionate about, and I wouldn’t offer my support to someone I thought was on the other side of issues that matter to me.”
He wouldn’t have helped a candidate who supported the controversial decision to replace the storefronts in the Pelissier Street parking garage with more parking, he said.
To me it’s about having good representation rather than getting a particular agenda through
Synnott is targeting Wards 2, 9 and 10, considered key because the incumbents are vulnerable. In addition to McKenzie, he supports challenger Fabio Costante in Ward 2 and is campaign manager for Morrison.
Asked if he’s targeting certain wards, Sartori, who wouldn’t say who else he has helped, said, “I’m putting more effort where I think it can be most fruitful.”
Are they targeting the split on council, where six councillors frequently vote with the mayor on major or controversial issues and the other four often oppose him?
“Yeah, for sure,” said Sartori.
He doesn’t think the mayor’s agenda is all good or all bad, he said.
“One of the biggest problems I have with it is I think debate is limited,” he said.
He accused Dilkens of “whipping” some votes.
Dilkens called that description “completely inappropriate.”
“Every mayor before me and every mayor after me, we work to try to get support for issues at city council,” Dilkens said. “It’s the only way to work with people, to figure out how to get things done.”
He said he’s “always open and available to talk to people who have ideas.”
But this isn’t an anti-Dilkens vote, either, said Synnott, though “without a doubt it would be perceived that way.”
He and Sartori don’t want a progressive block of votes, they say. They don’t want opposing blocks of votes, period. They want independence and diversity.
“To me it’s about having good representation rather than getting a particular agenda through,” said Sartori.
Wright has received help from Synnott, but “I’m definitely not part of any slate,” he said. “I’m running in Ward 5 for the people of Ward 5.
“I try to go into every situation with an open mind and weigh the pros and cons, not go in with a preconceived notion. I would probably agree more with the four (councillors) than the six, but there have also been initiatives by the mayor that I support.”
Without defined voting blocks, there would be more debate and compromise and more 6-4 votes either way, said Synnott.
“I want to see some good rock ’em sock ’em debates where we get down to the nitty gritty,” he said. “That’s where issues really get aired and we make better decisions.”