Few races have attracted as much interest this municipal season as the marathon of a run in Ward 32.
Unlike other races, though, the race in the Beach is attracting attention because of its incumbent rather than its challengers.
Four-term councillor Sandra Bussin is seeking a fifth term. Add up her 13 years on council, and there are few councillors who could claim as much experience heading into the next term.
But there are also few who could be listed as having wracked up as much controversy in the last term, either.
Where to begin.
Last year Bussin made an infamous call to John Tory’s radio program on CFRB where she identified herself only as Sandra and denied she worked for the city. She proceeded to say David Miller was a brilliant municipal politician and ended off the call by telling Tory he was a “three-time loser.” She later apologized, but the clip lives on online, where it’s garnered more than 2,000 hits on YouTube.
Months later she became entangled in controversy with a couple who bought an old home with a mind to tearing it down to build an accessible dream house to accommodate the wife, who had recently become a quadriplegic. Bussin pushed for the city to give the property heritage status, arguing it was architecturally significant for the area.
However, the couple’s supporters launched a media campaign depicting her as cold and devious, forcing her to eventually back down.
Most recently she’s been visited by an old ghost, that of the exclusive, 20-year food and beverage deal she helped secure for Boardwalk Pub owner George Foulidis around the time of the last election. Then, she was accused of having allegedly traded the deal in exchange for campaign donations from Foulidis and his associates. In the years since, lawsuits have flown left right and centre (one filed by Bussin) and have engrossed many, including ward challenger Bruce Baker and mayoral candidate Rob Ford.
With this overshadowing of the real issues in the ward, such as flooding, and TTC vehicle storage plans, some onlookers speculate Bussin might have a tougher time getting re-elected this time around.
But University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman isn’t one of them.
“Incumbents get re-elected,” Wiseman said. “The fact that there are so many people running against her will work in her favour. It’s not as if it’s a one-on-one race. A lot of (voters) just pick the incumbent because they are more likely to recognize that name because it’s been in the media.”
And it would appear Bussin’s challengers are starting to recognize the futility of splitting the challengers’ vote seven ways. Candidate Martin Gladstone recently announced he is officially throwing his support to Mary-Margaret McMahon, believed by some to be the candidate with best shot of unseating Bussin.
Long-time Bussin critic Bruce Baker is another candidate considered one of the frontrunners among the challengers. He’s not throwing support to anyone else, but insists the winds have changed in the ward.
“The fact of the matter is, people want change,” Baker said. “In fact, they’re demanding it.”
For her part, Bussin said she’s been unfairly targeted.
“This has been a very negative campaign by candidates who have not provided their own platform but have spent the entire campaign attacking my record,” she said.
Bussin said she hopes voters will recognize her many contributions to the ward, including her work on the lead pipe renewal program, cleanup of the waterfront, and the shutting down of incinerators at Ashbridge’s Bay Park.
And if Baker’s right, he better hope those people actually vote. Last time residents went to the polls, nearly 70 percent of them cast a ballot for Bussin.
That being the case, it would take a dramatic shift to unseat her.
But in a ward where drama is well supplied, anything may be possible.
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