TORONTO – For years, Tony Vella was the face and voice of the Toronto Police – the man speaking for cops in the wake of shootings, hit-and-runs, and assaults. Now he wants to be the voice of residents in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. And he’s challenging 11-year incumbent Mark Grimes for the seat.
Vella’s on unpaid leave from the police service, and registered for the Ward 6 election Thursday morning. He says he’s been planning to run for several months.
This is actually his second foray into politics in the last year – he tried, unsuccessfully, to replace Doug Holyday after the long-time councillor won a provincial byelection in August, 2013. (Holyday was eventually replaced by Peter Milczyn during the June election)
Vella knows this race will be tough – incumbents have a near-insurmountable advantage in local elections – but hopes being accessible will help him win. And he’s got his first lines down.
“When it comes to spending money, you have to be reasonable about it,” he said. “It has to make sense when you’re spending someone’s money. It’s taxpayers dollars, and you have to take that seriously.”
Vella’s using a mantra Rob Ford, who was a councillor for ten years in Etobicoke prior to becoming mayor, used to build his political career: respecting taxpayers dollars and using a personal touch with constituents.
“That’s your job,” Vella said. “Returning people’s phone calls, listening to their concerns, being available to them all the time.”
But this is his “own personal belief,” Vella said – not just a borrowed strategy.
He plans to expand his personal accountability focus later in the campaign, and wouldn’t divulge much of his platform just yet. He also refused to comment on the city’s search for a new police chief, saying only that the decision was up to the police board, which voted last month not to renew Chief Bill Blair’s contract.
And if he wins, would he want to sit on the police board? He said he hasn’t thought that far ahead.
Grimes, a former TTC Chair, has served the ward as councillor for 11 years.
But Vella said that as a resident, volunteer at the Waterfront Festival and a former Humber College student, he’s got strengths of his own.
“It’s always important that people have various candidates to choose from. And I know I could do the best job,” he said. “Any time that you’re going up against an incumbent, it’s difficult. But I’m up to the challenge and I will convince the people that I can do a great job.”