By Arianne Robinson
Councillor Vincent Crisanti ran for city councillor and lost four times, was appointed once, and served for two and a half years in the former City of Etobicoke before winning in 2010.
This term, the 64-year-old was chosen as one of the mayor’s symbolic deputy mayor’s, before having the position taken away in September after Crisanti made his allegiance to Doug Ford known. Crisanti says he will see office again in the 2018 municipal election.
This interview was conducted in person at the Etobicoke Civic Centre, and has been condensed.
First a few bio points. You were a councillor in pre-amalgamation?
That was 1995 up until we amalgamated in 1998. It was called ward 12 then. This [the Etobicoke Civic Centre] was city hall then. It was the former City of Etobicoke. This was the city hall and this was the councillor chamber and it continues to operate as a council chamber for community council purposes today. I ran in 1994. It was my first time at it. I’ve been in my community for 35 years, so [I was] well known. I was encouraged by certain members of my community that I should possibly consider running for council, and I did, and I did very well my first time and I came in second. The incumbent, who was John Hastings at the time, I got his attention. It was funny, I kind of knew John, not that well, but I know that as I was outdoor knocking he’s out there sneaking behind trees watching saying, “Who is this guy? He’s going to beat me.” Anyways, John’s a great guy, I know him today. He won his seat back, and what happened there was six months later, after the election, he decided to run provincially and he won a seat in June of the following year in . So being the fiscal conservative that I am I thought, why hold a byelection? I was his second choice. I got my team together and said look, let’s go back out there and get a petition signed so we can demonstrate to the then-mayor Doug Holyday, and council, that not only am I the second choice, but there’s still a strong will for people [who] want to maybe save $250,000 of taxpayer dollars, and not hold a byelection, and appoint me as the councillor. So I put up my best argument. I came down here with a couple of supporters of mine and I stood at that podium over there and faced council. I made my pitch, and then the debate started and there were 12 councillors, and interesting debate – I think I still have the videotape – and I won. It wasn’t unanimous – it was 9-3. I did very well. The moment the vote was successful, I was the city councillor for the remainder of the term, two and a half years.
[According to the minutes of City of Etobicoke Council Minutes from June 26th, 1995, Crisanti did better than his memory – he was appointed to the seat in a vote of 10-2]
I’m advocating strongly for community-based policing, boots on the ground. More police, in a sustainable way, consistently in communities so that they can get to know these officers, and they’re there for years, not months or days or weeks.
Your background is in real estate and advertising?
Right, well mostly advertising, but I do real estate too, or did.
You ran a few of times after amalgamation (1998, 2000, 2003) without success?
I guess I was consistent. So what happened, the province – with my luck – they decided to amalgamate. I wasn’t known as well outside my own [ward] boundaries.
Fast forward to 2010 and you win. It’s been reported that Rob Ford helped you win. How?
In 2010, what happened there is Rob Ford gave me a call about a year before the election. I’ve known the Fords a long time.
Probably 15 years, maybe.
Just from business, or… ?
Ya, just knew them from city hall, business. We connected. So Rob called me and says, “Vinny, let’s go out for lunch.” He told me he wanted to run for mayor. He asked if I would consider running. I’m not a quitter. I did run four times. I served a short term and I know that it takes time to build your momentum, and timing is everything. At the time I wasn’t interested in running. And then I started to rethink it, and then June 15th, I came downtown and I registered and, yes, I worked closely with Rob Ford and he helped.
Help paint a picture for someone that doesn’t know how this works. What does help look like? Is it late night phone calls? Strategizing? Endorsing?
He endorsed me and he let people know I’m the right guy to vote for in this area, and that’s it. My campaign was independent. His help came in the latter part. I was very clear who I was going to support: I supported Rob. In fact, anywhere you saw one of my signs, you’d see one of Rob Ford’s signs. I was successful in 2010 in defeating the incumbent with a good number of votes.
Tell me about your priorities at council. What have you accomplished? What are you hoping to accomplish?
Given my business background, advertising, I understand you have to have a vision. You have to have a reason. You got to go out there when you’re knocking on doors and you got to sell yourself and convince people why you’re the right guy to vote for. In my mind, I had a business plan. I had a vision. Having lived in my community for 35 years, I knew that we lacked so much in North Etobicoke. I knew there was so much that needed to get done in terms of infrastructure investment, transportation, safety, general improvements everywhere that wasn’t getting done. I knew I could do it because that’s who I am.
You talked about poverty and safety in the ward – that’s very real there.
It is a very real issue. It has been and still is today, and we need support and we need help up there. We have close to 2,000 Toronto Community Housing [units]. I’ve been pushing to improve these properties, not only from state of good repair to safely. I’ve been doing well. I’m quite successful in moving certain initiatives forward to try and make the community safer. Jamestown, for example when I was elected, only had about a dozen or so old technology cameras. I’ve taken that situation and moved it up to over 100 high-definition security cameras, all in strategically located places. Why is that important? Unfortunately, when an incident happens in that community the residents don’t speak out to the police. They’re afraid for their own safety. The only tools police have most of the time are good working cameras with good footage to be able to obtain leads or evidence to help them solve a crime, to help them take these shooters off the road and put them in jail.
Some of the things you’re talking about are controversial, like the cameras. It gets into issue of how policing works in the city. You have to connect with such a diverse range of residents. What’s your method of connecting with so many people in your ward, which is so diverse?
I probably have one of the most diverse wards. It’s easy for me, I’m a people person. Coming from sales background, you have to [have a] customer service background. I’m excellent at communicating with people at any level with any background. … I can walk through communities like Mount Olive and Jamestown and people know that they can have confidence in my ability to look after their needs. It’s a work in progress all the time. On the policing side, they’re going through modernization to update ways how policing is done in the city of Toronto. I’m advocating strongly for community-based policing, boots on the ground. More police, in a sustainable way, consistently in communities so that they can get to know these officers, and they’re there for years, not months or days or weeks. That hasn’t happened yet and I’m extremely disappointed. I’ve asked for help in Etobicoke North, and that’s the help we need. This isn’t just the opinion of Vince Crisanti, the city councillor, this is the opinion of people in the community. When I’m walking through Jamestown or Mount Olive, the residents there say, “Why is it we only see the police when something happens and then they’re parachuted in for a week or two and then they’re gone?” I agree with them.
What you’re saying is what you hear from residents is that they want officers in their communities more often?
Do you hear the other side? Do you hear from people saying, “We don’t want this we’re targeted”? “We’re black, we’re stopped for no reason.”
Honestly, no, I haven’t heard that. If they’re out there and they’re out there advocating that and saying that to other people, they’re not saying it to me. I’ve walked through the communities with my staff, with the police, with the people from Toronto Community Housing. People come up to me and want that kind of support from the police. But what they want is for people not to be police and Gestapo and be the strong arm. You have to have the right type of officers in a community type of thing. You have to have the kind of personality that I have, where you can speak to just about anyone on the street. You have to have the right type of officers with the right kind of personality. Unless it happens in a consistent way, long term, and they can deal with the criminal element. Calls I get from some are, “Can you relocate me? I fear for my life doing that.” No one should have to live that way. If police are there more often, the criminal element will decrease, if not over a long period of time. Easily get involved in gangs.
You were one of the symbolic deputy mayors until recently. What does that position mean?
The real deputy mayor is [Denzil] Minan-Wong, the rest of us are symbolic. We’re more ceremonial. We were all given certain responsibilities. Mine was, when I was asked to be deputy mayor, looking at ways of building employment and jobs in Etobicoke North – the economic file.
My advice to anyone, whether you’re young or older or a lot older: run for the right reasons. Make sure you have a vision for your community. Make sure you know what you want to accomplish. I know that I always did.
Do you think you were able to accomplish more or less in terms of jobs and employment as deputy mayor?
Good question. 110%. The mayor’s decision to remove the title from me was not remotely connected to any performance levels. In fact, if it was connect to performance levels, I would still be here, as the deputy mayor. In fact, he’d be considering finding ways of promoting that and talking about the great things that I have done, and continue to do, in Etobicoke North. I’m the only city councillor that holds two regular business roundtables to support business because that’s where the job comes from. How do you support the economy? You grow the business.
How did being deputy mayor allow you to do that? You could hold roundtables without being deputy mayor.
And I was holding roundtables. I was already doing that. It enabled me to expand my program throughout Etobicoke and the Etobicoke York and the west district. So my business roundtable meetings went from small local meetings in Etobicoke North to district-wide, and expand my efforts with working with business throughout the district.
Your title was stripped after expressing vocal support for Doug Ford, who said he is going to run against the mayor.
I was a bit taken aback in my mind thinking, really, when he knows I’m a Ford supporter. Mr. Tory knew where my alliances were. I was very clear and I asked him, “John” – I was calling him by his first name at the time – “John, you know where my alliances are. You know there are no strings attached here.” In fact, when I spoke to him further, in a discussion I initiated, he said he’d like for me to help him understand how the Fords are so loved north of the 401 and North Etobicoke. He wanted me to help him get to know the community. I explained to him some stories that I gave him at the time. You know, it takes a certain person to really fit into our communities and represent… so he wanted me to help him understand that, so he knew what my alliances were. So when he, as you put it, stripped me of the title, it was over the phone. I was a bit surprised by that because he knew my alliances already. What was the difference? The difference was that Doug Ford made an early announcement. I would have stood with him whether that announcement was early or later, and I’m not one to hide who I am, I’m very transparent, and when he called me I said, “John, he made an early announcement. Whether he made it now or in the new year, I would have still done the same thing.”
Are you going to run again?
Advice to others thinking of running?
I’ve already had a number of runs at this thing and I don’t think I’ve ever had an election where there’s not 10 or 12 or 15 other people running. One thing I’ve noticed from working in a business environment, I can tell if someone is really, really serious and if they really truly have a vision. I’m not afraid of good competition. My advice to anyone, whether you’re young or older or a lot older: run for the right reasons. Make sure you have a vision for your community. Make sure you know what you want to accomplish. I know that I always did. I’d debate that with anyone. My vision was clear. I would never get into something without having a plan of where I’m going to go or how I’m going to be able to win it. For me, it was never about power. It was always about making improvements. It was always about giving back to the community and it still is as of today, and will continue to be. When I start losing interest in giving back, that’s when I’ll likely step aside on my own. But my vision is still there. There’s so much more to accomplish, and I’m on the right track, and I’ve accomplished a lot and I still can’t stop giving back. I’m moving North Etobicoke, certainly, in the right direction and not patting myself on the back, but this is what people are telling me. I walk through the streets and everyone’s happy, and I hear it from everybody.
Are things like lessening poverty or increasing jobs and employment realistically something a councillor can accomplish or make real change in? For you it’s such an important question because these issues are so relevant in your ward. Is it fair to expect that a city councillor can really make these changes?
I’ll answer the question this way. All we can do as politicians is establish an environment for business, that could likely make them more successful if you did nothing else. You have a choice. You’re either going to put yourself out there and support the business community, or just completely ignore them and focus on everything else that you need to focus on as a city council. I chose to focus on everybody, including the businesses. They pay taxes, in fact more than most. They need the support. Also, we have our own internal agencies like Toronto Employment and Social Services program that a lot of people don’t even know about. It’s a free service from the City of Toronto for anybody looking for a job. They’ll sit down with you, they have consultants, that will guide you through the process of how to best present yourself to go after the job of your dreams. There’s a lot of things that we do to support our community, to encourage our young people to tap into, the great services we can offer them to help them get employed. I really truly believe that anybody that wants to work, there’s work out there. The work exists. That’s up to you. What are you interested in? Go after it, don’t be afraid. And don’t be afraid of rejection either. I encourage our young people because, look, if I was afraid of rejection, the first time if I thought, ‘“Oh, I lost. That’s it, I’m done,” and walk away from this and get all down on myself, I wouldn’t be here today, would I? Through my persistence, I took one loss, two losses, three losses, four losses. I came back. Why? Because it takes time to build. Certain things don’t happen overnight.
You’ve talked a lot about business, what about residents’ needs for things like public space?
I’m holistic in the way I think. I know what communities need. I know what families need. We’re not one of the rich wards like some other councillors who have the magic Section 37 money [extra funds from developers when building] by the multi-millions that they could invest in ward improvements. But I work very closely with our staff, and I’m very clear that we need things up in Etobicoke North, or in particular in Ward 1, for the people I represent. We’ve had tremendous success in getting investment in park improvements and quite a few of them. We’re moving that nicely, there’s still more to come. But the single biggest one that’s happening right now as we speak is Massey Grove Park, where we’re putting in a splash pad for the area of Jamestown and Martingrove and Orpington area, where these children that will not have the opportunity to go a swimming pool on the hot summer days, they’re going to get their very own splash pad and new playground equipment as well, two of them in that park, that will open in the spring.