Since I last blogged about the mayoral election in Mississauga in 2014, Steve Mahoney apologized for the advertisements that suggested incumbent Mayor Hazel McCallion endorsed him. McCallion then surprised Mahoney and many others by explicitly backing Bonnie Crombie. In an unlikely coincidence, Crombie surged in the polls, turning a close race into one where she leads by a wide margin.
Hazel's endorsement matters. Studies show that in non-partisan local elections, endorsements matter, largely because voters look for signals about whom to support. In partisan races, one easy signal is the party label, but in the absence of that short-cut towards political understanding, trusted political leaders can substitute. For voters struggling to decide between Crombie and Mahoney, McCallion's endorsement of Crombie, especially after McCallion long promised to stay neutral, is such a signal.
Up until now, there was not much that gave voters a reliable signal over which candidate to support. Not much differentiates the platforms of two former Liberal MPs. Neither candidate easily can be categorized as being on the left or as being on the right since both promise to expand government services like transit, government supervision on matters like development and planning, but both promise to keep tax rates in check.
Until the endorsement, Mahoney, his councillor wife Katie, and Crombie have long enjoyed close ties to Mayor McCallion. The close ties between McCallion and both Mahoneys helps explain Katie Mahoney's rather angry and bitter reaction to the news of Hazel's endorsement. So, losing McCallion's endorsement puts Mahoney at a severe disadvantage if he wants to claim the ability to continue a popular legacy from the incumbent. If Mahoney wanted to run as the voice of change against the establishment, he would have run a very different campaign. McCallion's endorsement takes away an important foundation of his appeal.
Mahoney is countering with several MP and MPP endorsements. Two, Brad Butt and Bob Dechert, are Conservatives, which is useful for a former Liberal MP and MPP, but at the same time Mahoney's [relative] fiscal conservatism makes such endorsements unsurprising. Furthermore, Butt defeated Crombie in the federal election. It would have been a surprise if he supported her now.
The ethnic background of endorsers may be used as signals if the endorser is seen as a leader of a particular community. Only one visible minority MPP, Harinder Takhar, endorsed Mahoney. Takhar represents a riding that overlaps with Ward 8, the ward Katie Mahoney represents. Vic Dhillon and Amrit Mangat have endorsed Crombie. The others have not publicly introduced either mayoral candidate.
Mahoney is highlighting the endorsements of five current members of council, including his wife. All represent western Mississauga. The only councillor in the west who has not endorsed Mahoney, George Carlson (Ward 11). Carlson says that the two candidates have such similar positions, he'll work with both. That is probably one-third of the story. There is surely a strategic element, as Carlson does not want to be caught taking the wrong side and alienating the winner or the winner's supporters. Carlson's last re-election bid was relatively close after Carlson was part of the coalition that favored the inquiry into McCallion's corruption scandal and McCallion tacitly backed his opponent, the co-chair of Bonnie Crombie's campaign!
The other councilors may have similar strategic concerns. In the absence of parties, these councilors find it expedient to allow Crombie supporters to think they support Crombie, and Mahoney supporters to think they support Mahoney. The absence of an endorsement from them does not mean that they do not think Crombie is qualified, it just means that they have little to gain by offering an endorsement, and a lot to lose in this election, or the next, if they endorse the loser. Long-time friends have less to fear, especially, like in the case of Pat Saito, they have been [re-] elected for decades without much competition.
The bottom line is that I don't think the absence of councillor endorsements of Crombie is all that indicative of their opinion of Crombie's competence (as Mahoney would lead you to believe), but may be more directly the result of strategic considerations.