Ari Goldkind has never run for elected office. But in March, the criminal lawyer — frustrated by a political landscape dominated by career politicians — entered the Toronto mayoral race.
So far, Goldkind has led a brazen campaign. If elected, he says he’ll raise property taxes on deciwealthy Torontonians to invest in transit. Meanwhile, in his day job, he continues to unapologetically represent one of Canada’s most notorious sex-offenders.
Still, with the three big-name candidates — Rob Ford, Olivia Chow and John Tory — dominating the headlines, he finds himself on the margins.
But Goldkind is undeterred. He insists that once voters hear his plan for the city, they’ll have no choice but to take him seriously. Here, he speaks candidly to Precedent about his campaign and why his lack of political experience is, in fact, one of his best assets.
You’re a criminal lawyer who’s unknown in politics. So why run for mayor?
Ari Goldkind: This city, politically, is going the wrong way. Economically, in many ways, it’s doing great. But there is a problem at city hall and another politician isn’t going to fix it. So rather than complain, I thought I would offer an entirely different approach, which is a no-BS approach that simply deals with facts.
Why not run for council first and, after that, work your way up the ranks?
AG: The fundamental premise of that question assumes that I’d be a better mayor if I were a councilor first. I reject that idea. We’re living through era after era of councilors who became mayor. And they are less effective than a doctor, nurse, teacher, social worker or banker who might have leadership qualities, work well with people and deal with facts.
But, if you were a councilor first, you’d be more likely win the mayoral race.
AG: That’s absolutely true. And in fact, I get told over and over again that if I ran for council and won, I would likely be the mayor of Toronto come October 2018. But the city needs help now.
Being a mayor is also about being able to convince councilors to vote for your platform. Can you accomplish that as an outsider?
AG: Let’s look at what the choices are. Rob Ford was a councilor for 13 years. He’s now in a position where he couldn’t convince people that the sun rises in the East. John Tory brings baggage with him that I can’t even begin to talk about. Olivia Chow, when she was a councilor, was one of the most divisive in history and never got people to agree with her because it was her way or the high way.
I bring no baggage. I’m only interested in one thing: what’s in the best interests of Toronto. I have no enemies. I have no enemy list. I am happy to work with everybody. So I think I would be much more able to work the room, so to speak, because I’m fresh and new.
What are you offering that no other candidate offers?
AG: I offer truth. We live in a society where truth and honesty seem to have no value anymore. We have housing challenges, police challenges, mental health challenges, transit challenges and probably 10 other challenges I don’t want to bore your readers with. The reason none of these challenges get solved at a political level is that nobody tells the truth about them.
What are the truths you’re telling that no one else is?
AG: This ridiculous, preposterous idea that we can improve our 1970s TTC transit system without any increase in property tax. Nobody likes the idea of higher taxes because we know our current politicians waste our money. But when taxes are spent wisely, it is an investment in the common good and it is worth paying for. Without it, we are not building diddly squat.
Why won’t other candidates say that?
AG: They are more interested in power and glory than in solving the problems we all face. That’s what their whole lives are about: getting elected, experiencing glory and having some new building named after them.
It sounds like you have a deep-seated hostility toward people who have been politicians their entire lives.
AG: With the exception of a small few, I don’t think anybody should be a politician for their whole life. It should be a calling. It should be a time of service. I do have a deep-seated distrust of anybody who lives off the public teat for 30 years and every single moment of their life is about winning the next election and winning greater glory. I do not trust it. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.
Would you feel any glory if you won?
AG: No. I would feel a sense of accomplishment that the people of Toronto finally want to hear the truth and actually want to move this city forward in a way that doesn’t have a stupid slogan.
A few weeks ago, you held a fundraiser. How much does money matter in a campaign?
AG: Money matters tremendously. I hate to say it, but that’s what I’ve learned in the last couple months. We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing and the message is getting out, but if I had one-tenth of Olivia Chow’s money, I would be a household name and I would be on the cover of the Star. End of story.
What would money allow you to do?
AG: Advertise. Hire extremely high-paid campaign managers who are paid at least six figures or higher who have gotten people elected for decades. I’m not in a position to do that. Luckily, people are donating to my campaign because they see me as a legitimate contender.
Let’s talk about your legal career. Right now, you’re defending Gordon Stuckless, one of Canada’s most notorious sex offenders. How has that affected your campaign?
AG: When I decided to run, there was a lot of thought about dropping him as a client, because how could I get a soccer mom to vote for me when I represent Canada’s most notorious child molester? I made a decision — and I stand by my decision — that if I had dropped him I would become exactly like the very machine I’m running against. I don’t give up on people. I don’t run from tough choices. I invite any soccer mom or any father or other person to come watch what I do for a living and watch how I defend someone.
What would they see?
AG: I’m a defence lawyer who walks into court and if my client deserves life in jail, that what’s going to come out of my mouth. But we need to make sure that, before we lock somebody up, we’ve got the right person. I don’t do anything other than that.
Here’s a cynical take on your campaign. Even if you lose, at least you’ve got a lot of press and you might get more clients after the election.
AG: It’s actually the opposite. I have lost tens of thousands of dollars by running for mayor. I’ve had clients leave because they think I won’t have the time to devote to them. They’re wrong, but I understand that. So there is absolutely no upside to this for my law practice. Anybody who says that doesn’t know my life and doesn’t walk in my shoes. I have taken an extremely significant risk putting my name and neck out on the line and I can assure you, this will not help my law practice.