Chloe Brown’s Toronto mayoral race strategy was a clear winner

I spent election night with Olivia Chow, who ran for mayor in 2014, and helped her late husband Jack Layton run for the same office in 1991. Uninvited, she m said it cost $2 million to run a serious mayoral campaign. « In case you were wondering why a lot of people decide not to run. »

It wasn’t really news. The high bar of fundraising is well known. John Tory spent over $2.6 million in 2018.

But that conversation was still fresh in my mind during an email exchange with Chloe Brown, the third in this week’s mayoral election. Although her official campaign finance deposits aren’t due for some time, she gave me a rough estimate (and sent receipts) of her expenses. Not including meals and transportation, she reports, her campaign budget was $1,950.

Talk about small budgets. In Brown’s budget, little things would be an unaffordable luxury. Brown ran to win, and I guess she’s disappointed with the outcome. But given her level of spending and the fact that she started with a low public profile, Brown’s third-place finish with 6.31% of the vote is staggering.

Its votes per dollar spent is something that should be studied, like the Oakland A’s of the « Moneyball » era, which couldn’t and didn’t beat the wealthiest teams, but used intelligence to get closer to them. on a small payroll.

Let’s take a moment to put Brown’s finish into perspective. In the eight elections since the merger in 1997, his vote share is the 20th highest result of any candidate.

Eight of those who preceded her on the list obviously won. Of the others who finished with a larger vote share than Brown, one later became mayor (Tory 2003), one became prime minister (Doug Ford 2014), three started their races ahead to win (Barbara Hall 2003, George Smitherman 2010, Olivia Chow 2014), one was sitting mayor (Hall 1997), the other sitting deputy mayor (Joe Pantalone 2010), and the other four were considered « leading » candidates in their elections ( Tooker Gomberg 2000, Jane Pitfield 2006, Jennifer Keesmaat 2018 and Gil Penalosa this week).

That’s far better than the campaign names Toronto political junkies remember as big and high-profile, like John Nunziata (who finished with 5.2% of the vote in 2003), Stephen LeDrew (1.38% in 2006), Enza “Supermodel” Anderson (2.25 percent in 2000) and Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thompson in 2010 and Tom Jakobek in 2003, none of whom received more than one percent of the vote.

The fact is, 6.31% of the vote is not fringe candidate territory. It’s a solid finish, in a level of support usually reserved for experienced politicians.

I’m convinced that every candidate in the history of Toronto mayor who has outperformed Chloe Brown has spent far more than $2,000. Many of those who performed less well also spent several times as much.

I think his success started with his charisma and a direct, blunt message of being fed up with the status quo. She spoke directly and proudly like no other candidate on behalf of the working class and those who feel increasingly excluded from the city. She walked into both debates that took place and stood out from the crowd.

In our email exchange, Brown revealed that of the nearly $2,000 she spent, more than $800 was essentially wasted on printed materials that didn’t arrive until Election Day. She might have spent more, if not for snafus with banks in creating and accessing campaign accounts.

She found that the retail policy’s standard advice to « go knock on doors » didn’t apply to a mayoral race in a city of nearly three million people. « Knocking on the door was the worst use of time, » she said. Many people she met on her doorstep couldn’t vote or didn’t want to be bothered, and those who signed up were often happy with the status quo or needed plenty of time to discuss each issue.

Instead, she says her success started with a low-cost digital strategy: a website, a video, and a plan. Brown offered insight into a future « candidate’s playbook »: « Use digital products for more impactful storytelling opportunities, build your platform to be responsive to influencer networks aligned with socio-economic causes , make better use of hybrid presentation templates that enable both in-person and remote participation, enhance content accessibility using captions, and record events for community playback and comment , manage your visibility by « appearing » at existing events.

She used this strategy to reach voters likely to support her and leveraged the resulting profile to attract media attention and debate invites. Then, on stage with the other contestants, she knocked it out of the park.

It was not a complete formula for victory. She probably could have used a second campaign chapter to build new layers of support. But her playbook propelled her from obscurity to the top tier of candidates, possible winners. Or possible future winners.

Everyone loves the story of an overachieving underdog – Rocky Balboa lost valiantly in the first movie before becoming the sequel champion. But then, it’s a Hollywood fairy tale.

Back to « Moneyball, » which I mentioned earlier and which is based on real baseball history: those Oakland A’s never won it all; they never even entered the World Series. But the architects of their system were then hired by their ultimately successful competition, and their example reshaped the way winning teams were put together. Oakland’s modest moral victory was the end of the film, but it was far from the end of the story.

Toronto should hope the same goes for Brown, whose voice was a much-needed addition to the race. His heavyweight performance on a flyweight budget challenged conventional wisdom on what it takes to get votes. There is something to learn and develop.

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