Lesson 7- Get Political
McCampaign photo by Roman Sokal
In the year 2000, at twenty four years old, I took a bit of time off from Mayor McCa to enter politics.
In that year, Mayoral election was to take place in Hamilton. The city had just amalgamated with several other towns, making Hamilton a, ‘super city’. It was going to be a big deal.
There had been some talking and joking about it and I decided that this was my opportunity to try my hand in politics. I walked down to City Hall and asked the information desk for an application to run for Mayor. I didn’t know but it turns out that it is the right of any Canadian citizen to run for office. All one needs is proof of identity and two hundred dollars (the price has gone up since, I’m sure) and you’re in. So that's what I did!
My thought was that since I was Mayor of my own, invented, imaginary world, I would try and become the mayor for real, in the Hammer. I'd garner hoards of attention, just in time for the release of my new album, the album would top the charts and then it would smooth sailing for the rest of my life! It’s funny, when I was young, I knew exactly how my life would work out. Well, there were a lot of problems with this plan;
The first problem was that everyone whom I’d spoken to about my plan and offered to help out, didn't. Countless friends had volunteered to be campaign managers, speech writers, security et cetera. People seemed to really want to take part when I had spoken of my plan. But when I actually set the plan into motion, they wouldn't even answer the phones. They would literally dodge my calls after promising to help with my campaign. This is one of the reasons I became a one-man band. When one talks about doing something, especially when wild and adventurous, people always seem overly willing to help. However, if there is no immediate glory or money involved I've found more often than not that sadly, you can't count on people to get involved (when people do, I hold on to them tightly). For this conquest, sadly, I was on my own.
Another problem I was when I went to the first debate (by law, all candidates must be invited) at one of our local radio stations, CHML. There, I met some of the other candidates, we went live to air and we started debating. Surprisingly, they were mostly speaking about issues that were actually really important to me. These issues affected my whole life and there I was: a young man who had spent his whole life in Hamilton. I had a platform to speak on and opinions to convey.
Particularly memorable issues include: water pollution, homelessness, bike lanes and finding positive use for the numerous boarded up buildings, downtown. I had ideas about how to fix these things and because of these issue’s importance, I had to make them a priority over some of the, 'joke' issues I had planned on addressing which included changing the name of Hamilton to Donut Rock City (coined by friends and label-mates, Tristan Psionic); making us the rock n roll capital of Canada and the donut capital of the world. I had a choice to make and I decided was to amalgamate my issues in to one platform and try and take it semi-seriously.
One of the great lessons I learned from my run for Mayor was what a difference a candidate can make, especially when said candidate has no chance of winning. There were a lot of issues the main candidates didn't want to touch and I could speak about them openly and honestly.
I recall future mayor, then candidate, Fred Eisenberger really not wanting to talk about the building of Red Hill Creek expressway which was an extremely divisive issue at the time. He also didn't like that I spoke about how unacceptable it was for public transport to be entirely suspended for nine months when a driver's strike happened. I knew this because several times after debates, his wife would approach and stop me usually to compliment me on what a, 'well spoken a young man' I was. The conversation would last just long enough for the crowd of people with, 'Vote For Fred' badges pinned on, coming my way. Once I was surrounded, she would wave goodbye. I then would have to listen to the inarticulate ramblings of Eisenberg’s minions. After the second time it happened I realised it was easiest to just say, "Look. You guys are obviously voting for Fred so if you there is no use in trying to argue with me. Just don't vote for me."
Eisenberg’s wife tried this trick nearly every debate she was there for. I reckon that I was a pretty big thorn in Fred’s side. Instead of trying to debate the merits of the concerns I had, their campaign tried to intimidate me in the hopes that it would discourage me from speaking up. This really brought the punk out in me and I pushed more.
Some of my opponents were really encouraging. I always sat next to the man who won, Bob Wade because alphabetically, Smith came right before Wade. He would always shake my hand and say something to the effect of, "I can't wait to hear what you've got for us today, C.A. You keep us on our toes!"
John C. Munro who Hamilton’s airport is named after was running, Bob Morrow, the incumbent mayor and infamous Church Of The Universe founder and marijauna advocate, Brother Michael Baldasarro all were running and paid almost no mind except for one time:
We were debating at a high school, where they hoped to encourage young people to vote. I was randomly selected to speak first. I went up and said, “Hi, I’m C.A. Smith and obviously, I’m running for Mayor. I’m actually only a bit older than you guys. I was in high school just five years ago. I think that something that you can keep in mind if you’re thinking about voting is that life really isn’t fair. I wish it was but it’s not. One of the only times that everyone is treated equally is during an election. No matter who you are or what walk of life you come from; we all get one vote. So don’t throw away your chance to be treated equally. Obviously, I’d like you to vote for me but if you don’t, that’s okay. Just make sure to get out there on election day.”
This must have been a good speech because every candidate who came up after me, echoed my speech. Perhaps they’d forgotten how to communicate with young people or perhaps I just made a good point.
The most disturbing things I found out during the campaign is that the company who owned the water treatment plant (disposing the sewage in the city) was illegally bypassing over sixty percent of the raw sewage back into the water we drank. This went on for fifteen years and for half of that time, the City knew about it and did nothing. Learning that really upset me. It was the water that my family, friends and I had been drinking for a big chunk of time. There was even a guy we called, 'Sonic Dave' who tried to tell everyone about it. Unfortunately, he had some pretty serious mental health issues so everyone ignored him for the most part. When I did a debate at McMaster University and the professors told us that the things that some of the things Sonic Dave was telling us were actually true; I felt betrayed by the people in charge and guilty for not knowing that it had happened. From that moment I became more of an activist. I think I still am one.
Here is an excerpt from my final speech (all of it can be heard on the hidden track from my third album, “Me Is He”):
"How you doing? I'm C.A. Smith and you know, I'm also running for Mayor. I'm a young man. I have some fresh ideas. Extreme change, if that's what you want then I'm your guy.
I want to rename the city. It's a new city. I want to call it, Donut Rock City. Let's make it official. You may laugh but here me out: We become the donut capital of the world and the rock and roll capital of Canada."
I continued, "A number of my fellow candidates here have mentioned the water. Obviously, if all of us are talking about it, it should be our first priority. Bike lanes. That’s another thing; I’d like so see bike lanes all over the city so those of who drive them don’t have to worry about getting hit by taxi cabs*”
At one point the moderator and future councillor, Jason Farr interupted, "C.A., I have to stop you there. I gave you almost forty (seconds) more because I like your one-man band."
I concluded, “I know a lot of you out there are thinking, this guy is young, this guy is crazy. Well, you may be right but I might just be crazy enough to be honest with you people. I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear, I’m going to tell you the truth. I’ve seen a lot of mud-slinging over the last few weeks by my fellow candidates that are running. It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of people here who will not win the race for Mayor. But I encourage whoever wins the race for Mayor to take the ideas that we’ve suggested and go with them because we do represent the people of Hamilton. So go out and vote for me….if you want.”
By the end of this experience I felt a strange combination of encouragement, deceipt, pride and loneliness. Before entering politics, ignorance really was bliss. Once I found out a little about how politics worked, I didn't want to be a part of it. Well, not in that way, at least.
I went to the Hamilton Convention Centre to watch the election results come in alone. I really wanted to celebrate with someone there but the truth was, it really was a solo venture. I had to wait til later in the evening when I met up with some friends at the Funky Monkey bar to celebrate not becoming Mayor of Hamilton.
The grand total was 394 votes
A whole three hundred and ninety four people went out to vote for me that day and I came in eighth out of twelve which may sound good until one realises that Bob Wade beat me by sixty one thousand votes. I was stunned by the whole experience until Bob made his victory speech; "My colleague, requested that the winner keep in mind that although there is only one winner, my fellow candidates still represent the ideas of the voting public. Well, I want everyone know that those voices have been heard."
He opened his speech by paraphrasing me! I wanted to high five someone or something but with the exception of my opponents and the owner of a local magazine (who made it clear that he felt I shouldn’t have ran), no one was there to hang with me. However, I had made a difference.
celebrating with friends
It's been over twenty years since I ran for Mayor of my hometown and it has become a very different place. Nowadays you'll find more bike lanes, cleaner water, films and TV shows being filmed across the city (one of my ideas was to turn the boarded up buildings into films studios that could offer a cheaper rate than Toronto) and a thriving downtown core. I obviously can't pretend that this was a result of my actions but I do believe that my contribution, socially and politically has made a positive difference to the overall wellbeing of my beloved and missed home town.
The day after the election, I hopped on a plane to Vancouver to stay with my buddy, Dom and I was glad to be out of the city for a while.
I only lasted about eight or nine months after the election. My time in Hamilton ended with me coming back to my apartment on Barton Street (a notorious area), only to have been robbed by my friend. I left to try and sort myself out only to be spat on by one of the local, mentally ill, prostitutes who I gave a friendly smile to. I broke down crying and moved to Toronto the next day vowing to never move back.
I was until recently, an active member of the Labour Party in the UK and I'm still active in Hamilton's political and social system. Well, as much as I can be from over here. Though I love my new adopted city, London the first thing people usually know about me is I'm from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I'm very proud of Donut Rock City.
I think a lot of people from Hamilton will forever remember me as that kid who ran for Mayor. I’m okay with that.