The way news media often portray it, there are only two candidates running for mayor of London in the civic election this fall.
That would be Joe Fontana, the incumbent, and Matt Brown, currently councillor for Ward 7.
But according to the list updated daily by the city clerk’s office at City Hall, there are nine declared mayoral candidates. And Mayor Fontana isn’t even one of them, although he keeps insisting he will be.
So why is this considered, by the learned ladies and gentlemen who cover city politics, a two candidate race?
Well it has to do with what are called A list and B list candidates, an arbitrary system for determining prominence in civic election campaigns. Here’s how it works, sort of.
Incumbents are always on the A list for the simple, if simplistic, reason they are already elected. So that’s how Mayor Fontana got there. It also explains how Councillor Brown made the list – he’s currently on council and any council candidate for mayor is an automatic.
But do you need to be on council already to be an A-Lister? Not necessarily. Anyone who already has prominence in the community — a top businessperson, a high-regarded member of the medical or legal profession, a well-known educator, minister or community advocate all would potentially be regarded as A list candidates.
What would make them so is their rank in the community already gained by being ‘top’ or ‘high regarded’ or ‘well known’.
Which brings us to Paul Cheng, who launched his campaign for mayor last month with a television and outdoor advertising blitz. The media, and the public for that matter, don’t quite know yet where to peg him.
He says he’s a serious candidate, but then just about everyone in the race does. He certainly isn’t well known, which under normal circumstances would quickly push him to the B list, and probably towards the bottom.
On the other hand, he has serious money to spend on fixing that problem. This could, if his advertising campaign catches fire, turn him into somebody. And by definition, being a somebody in London, however that recognition was achieved, could make you an A list candidate.
Until recently an oilfield exploration consultant in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Cheng apparently made up his mind to run for the top political job in his adopted hometown after spending two and a half hours sitting in the gallery watching city council debate the budget.
He left before the meeting ended. “I couldn’t stand it,” he says during an interview. “The length of time debating issues doesn’t mean it’s working. Council should be a business meeting. The councillors forget they were elected by the people; they think they were elected for themselves. I don’t fault them individually, but as a group they are poison. They forget why they are there.”
Strong words from someone with no political knowledge, and apparently little tolerance for how it’s conducted at the local level. On the other hand, that kind of contrary thinking can elevate a candidate from the B list to prominence if the public comes to believe it’s backed by intelligence, appropriate training and workplace experience.
Mr. Cheng has five and a half months to prove that describes him.
Philip McLeod, a longtime London journalist, can be reached at email@example.com.