Gil Penalosa, who less than 100 days ago came in second in his race for Toronto mayor, is getting a second chance at the position.
A by-election for the mayor’s seat is expected to be called soon after John Tory announced his resignation last Friday after reports that he had an affair with a former staffer.
Penalosa is the founder and chair of the non-profit 8 80 Cities, an organization that advocates for more equitable and sustainable cities. He worked with more than 350 cities across all continents and was the parks commissioner in Bogota, Colombia, before immigrating to Toronto 23 years ago.
Penalosa had previously stated he would not put his name forward after losing in October, but he told Humber News circumstances have changed following the surprise resignation.
“I was thinking that the next election was going to be four years from now, then I thought that there would be a lot of other people that would be running,” Penalosa said.
“But now I think that everything that I was saying, everything that I was thinking, every policy that I suggested for the election of Oct. 24 is still valid, if anything, there’s even more urgency now,” Penalosa said.
“I mean, we saw last week how the city council voted against warming centres 24/7 for people that are literally freezing on the streets,” he said.
Penalosa had little name recognition in last year’s municipal election and received around 18 per cent of the vote. He hopes that experience will help him stand out in what is expected to be a crowded field of candidates in the absence of an incumbent.
He said he asked others considering running for mayor why they didn’t run last year.
“I spoke with most of them. They said, ‘Oh because Tory has too much money. Tory has too much power,’” Penalosa said. “On the positive side, I think there’s going to be a lot of debates.
“I think it is going to be good for the citizens to raise awareness on these issues and also to realize that this matters,” he said.
“Whoever the mayor has a lot to do with their daily quality of life, whether the streets are clean or not, and the park where they have fun, they have culture and they have programs also housing, housing, housing,” Penalosa said.
He said the TTC had been at the centre of many conversations following the announcement of longer wait times, service cuts, fair hikes and a string of violent incidents.
Penalosa said public transit will be an absolute priority for his campaign. To reduce travel time, he says that street lights should automatically turn green for street cars and buses.
“It would be nice if for a change we had a mayor that walks or rides bicycles and uses public transit,” he said. “Our constitution says that all people are equal. If all people are equal, those 80 people on the streetcar should have the right of space of 80 cars.”
Penalosa argues housing has been a failure in Toronto since its amalgamation in 1998. He plans to end exclusionary zoning, allow existing homes to be subdivided and encourage mid-rise density on arterial roads.
“Everything that I’m proposing for housing, City Hall can make it happen,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the province or the federal” government.
“Of course, if they help us much better, but we are in a huge housing crisis because, for example, 80 per cent of the area of Toronto is zoned for single-family houses,” Penalosa said. “Why is that?”