The Star identified several “Wards to Watch” in a 47-ward election. Now that new legislation has made it a 25-ward election, we have determined all of the wards are worth watching. This is one in a series of articles. The election is Oct. 22.
“Uncomfortable and unfortunate” is how James Pasternak, one of two Toronto city council incumbents in a new North York ward, describes having to run against each other in the new 25-ward system.
Pasternak and Maria Augimeri find themselves pitted against each other in the new Ward 6 York Centre, a combination of their previous wards which stretches from Steeles Ave. in the north, to Highway 401 in the south, and roughly Jane St. in the west to Bathurst St. in the east.
“You never really want to cross swords with a workmate, so although we didn’t see eye to eye on many issues, it is a little uncomfortable to run against someone you work with,” said Pasternak, who was first elected to council in 2010.
Augimeri said she respects her main opponent’s work and believes he feels the same about hers.
“It’s the most respectful campaign I’ve ever seen,” said Augimeri, a Toronto city councillor since 1997. “I haven’t heard any negativity at the door. Certainly people say it’s a sad situation that two good councillors have to run against one another.”
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In stark contrast to many other wards, the race in York Centre is far less crowded, with only two other registered candidates, a well-known anti-violence advocate, and a man who successfully protested over a problematic pothole in his neighbourhood.
“I’ve always been a very strong community advocate and have actually had a lot of constituents over the years asking me to run … it’s gotten to a point where there’s been a lot of neglect in the area, and at this point I just decided to throw my hat in the ring,” said Louise Russo, who became an anti-violence advocate after becoming paralyzed in 2004, an innocent bystander in a botched Mob shooting at a North York sandwich shop.
The founder of the non-profit Working Against Violence Everyday, Russo was also Mayor John Tory’s special guest at his 2014 inaugural council meeting, where she placed the chain of office around his neck.
“Enhancing community safety is number one for me,” she said, saying she wants to have intimate gatherings with community members about improving safety. “I believe that it’s never about leaving it up to government or policy-makers and police, it’s also about emboldening community.”
Edward Zaretsky said he would appoint a “deputy councillor” if elected, which he says would allow constituents in the much larger new ward a better chance of being heard. His son and grandson have been helping him campaign when they have time.
He came to public attention earlier this year when he staged a one-man protest near his home, parking his car on the street in front of a gaping pothole, which he said the city had failed to fix despite numerous calls to 311. Even when the police showed up, he refused to move.
“I said ‘I’m not moving, if you want me to move the car you’ll have to arrest me, put me in jail and give me kosher food,’” he told the Star.
Within a few hours, a repair truck arrived.
Zaretsky said he wants to do everything he can to see Pasternak, his current councillor, removed from office. There is an ongoing legal battle between the two. Zaretsky received an email from a paralegal on last week acting on Pasternak’s behalf, and demanding that the candidate apologize to the councillor and his constituents for circulating allegedly defamatory statements about Pasternak on Twitter and in a flyer.
“What he is saying on the campaign trail is malicious and libelous and has no basis in fact and we’re going to vigorously pursue a libel action against him unless he stops,” Pasternak told the Star last week.
Zaretsky told the Star he is refusing to apologize.
More than half of residents in the new ward are tenants, and so the candidates say housing will be a priority for them. Augimeri also wants to establish panels comprising residents to advise on what to do regarding traffic issues such as speeding.
“It’s the one overriding issue east of the Allen (Rd.),” she said, referring to the area now part of Ward 6 but which previously fell under Pasternak’s ward.
She said development is the second big issue. “I have a track record on sighting bad development and on supporting smart development, that has to be of primary importance east of the Allen,” she said. “People have been responding to that, they know about my track record, and they like it, they like that I speak truth to power, no matter who the mayor is.”
Pasternak said he has “ambitious plans for the next four years,” saying he wants to start the process for building a new library and continuing with infrastructure improvements to stop basement flooding, something Russo also wants to focus on.
“I’m fully committed to bringing some of these ideas and investments to Downsview, there have been needs for many years and I’m very excited for the opportunity to work on them” he said, referring to Augimeri’s old ward.
“The reality is that I know Downsview very well, I was a school board trustee from 2006 to 2010 in the area so I know the schools, I know many parents, I know many of the different communities and neighbourhoods.”
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant