York shines at second mayoral candidates debate

Above: From left, Rocco Rossi, Rob Ford, Sarah Thomson, George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone on the Tribute Communities Recital Hall stage

The top five candidates for mayor of Toronto in next month’s municipal election came to the Tribute Communities Recital Hall on the Keele campus Wednesday for a televised debate that produced one clear winner – York University.

Left: President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri welcomes everyone to York

In a spirited discussion that will be aired Sunday at 5pm on Rogers Television, the five would-be mayors outlined their thoughts about transportation, finance and city governance on a concert stage resplendent with York branded signage to a full house of students, staff, faculty and members of the public.

“It truly was a night that York shone brightly,” said Jennifer M. Sloan, York’s vice-president university relations, whose team worked with the Toronto Community Foundation, United Way Toronto, the Toronto Board of Trade and the Toronto City Summit Alliance to host the second of three Toronto Debates 2010 events leading up to the election on Oct. 25.

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri opened the proceedings with welcoming comments and a thank you to the organizers and sponsors. He also made sure the candidates knew about York’s keen interest in transportation issues.

“Here at York we are a commuter school,” said Shoukri. “In the past decade our University has been highly successful in encouraging public transit use. Today, 33,000 members of our community rely on public transit to travel to our campuses. With the arrival of the two new subway stations here at our Keele campus we expect ridership to increase significantly and with the president of our York Federation of Students being a member of the TTC’s customer service advisory panel, it is clear that transportation is incredibly important to members of the York community.”

Under the watchful eye of moderator and TVOntario host Steve Paikin, candidates Rob Ford, Joe Pantalone, Rocco Rossi, George Smitherman and Sarah Thomson responded to questions posed by journalists representing Citytv, 680News and the Toronto Star.

Right: TVO host and debate moderator Steve Paikin chats with candidate Sarah Thomson following the proceedings

The debate will have some lasting effects on York’s future, said Cindy Bettcher, special adviser to the vice-president university relations. “The consortium includes many important stakeholders,” said Bettcher. “We were privileged to be hosting the event but more importantly we worked with the consortium partners, which will open up other opportunities for the University.”

With only three debates planned, it was a coup for York to be chosen as host of the only one in the series held outside of the downtown core. Back in January, when Maria  Papadopoulos, York’s government relations adviser, attended a Toronto Board of Trade event, she was invited to hear about the Toronto Debates 2010 consortium’s plans and immediately proposed to Sloan that York offer to host one of the discussions. The idea was quickly accepted and members of the University Relations team set about working with the consortium to make it happen.

“This was a really important event for our community,” said Papadopoulos. “Not just the University community but the larger community around the Keele campus. It’s important that community members and students get a chance to participate in this democratic process.”

Right: Journalists interview candidate Rocco Rossi after the debate

On the night, staff members from York’s University Events & Community Relations unit were involved from the beginning, working with the consortium’s organizers to ensure everything went smoothly. Members of York’s Media Relations team were also on hand to assist journalists representing an A-list of Toronto media.

The issues selected for the debate – transportation in particular – were ideally suited for airing at York, said Papadopoulos. The candidates clearly agreed, making numerous references to the Spadina Subway expansion through York’s Keele campus and its role in an overall transit plan for the city.

Left: Candidate George Smitherman, holding his York water bottle, thanks the panel of journalists

“The collective efforts of the York team made our University shine, and certainly impressed both the candidates and the consortium hosting the event,” said Bettcher in a congratulatory note to University Relations staff the following day.

For more information on Toronto Debates 2010, visit the Toronto Board of Trade’s Vote Toronto 2010 website.

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer