In a mayoral campaign full of twists and turns, Tuesday night – less than a week before Election Night – delivered another stunner. Mayoral candidate Paul Cheng, who moved from relative obscurity during the campaign to becoming the closest contender to front-runner Matt Brown, owns many unlicensed rental properties in London.
Cheng has said that he refuses to license his properties or to have them fire inspected as of a matter of principle, because many other London properties are not licensed and not under the same level of scrutiny, so why should he pay when others don’t? When asked if a mayor should choose which laws to follow, he backtracked and said that he would of course properly licence his properties before taking office.
He went on to talk about how painful his experiences with city hall have been, but denies that these experiences had an impact on his decision to leave his business career to run for mayor. In his defense about his decision, he said: “If you want to crucify me for that, yes, I protested and I stood up for my right to defend myself. . . . Is it wrong for me to stand up for my belief? Do you want a mayor that just craters under everything?”
The more Cheng’s platform and business conduct surface in the last days of campaigning, the more he seems akin to fringe candidate Arnon Kaplansky, who has also run foul of city hall with his development plans. Kaplansky is all about decrying “red tape” at city hall – but his “red tape”, to me, is code for “due diligence”. Kaplansky argues his properties would be so much better if city hall would just get out of the way and let him do whatever he wants.
(There are concerns being voiced that this article from the LFP is somehow tied to Cheng’s opposition, and the timing is suspect so close to the election. This comment was made by the article’s author, Jonathan Sher: “No one leaked anything. I investigated Mr. Cheng’s experience as a businessman as it is that experience that has been a cornerstone of his campaign. In London, his business experience is almost exclusively as a landlord. I conducted land registry searches to find out which properties he owns (many are under a numbered company), then asked city hall bylaw enforcers whether those properties had been duly licensed — a question that any civil servant is required to answer, as these are public records. As best I can tell, neither Brown nor Swan were aware of the issue until I asked them about it.”)
These revelations come on the heels of another controversy, starting the night of Sunday Oct 19 when one Scott Sproul (who has since deleted his account) tweeted a racist message to Forrest Bivens (@) over his taking over the People of London (@) Twitter account. This was awful but not unique for Sproul, who has been trolling London social media for years, but it was revealed to many that he is part of the Paul Cheng campaign team. I and others called the Cheng campaign office Monday to ask what capacity Sproul has on the team, and if the Cheng campaign knows that Sproul uses his vitriol to attack Matt Brown supporters as well as support Paul Cheng. I was contacted by the campaign manager Tom Linden that morning, who told me that Sproul was not associated with their campaign. That afternoon, Paul Cheng’s campaign announced that Sproul was a volunteer with the campaign, and no longer welcome. Hm.
Following that, am980 wrote the story about it and Forrest continued to talk to Linden. Forrest shared the latest e-mail he had received, where Linden denied one of the quotes they had published from Cheng, and said “I honestly don’t know how to get the media to report the truth without editorial sensationalism”. This prompted Craig Needles to publish this blog post including the sound clip of the quote, and saying that Cheng owed him and the station an apology. That evening Cheng contacted am980 and Craig Needles to apologize and say that he never meant to cast doubt on the professionalism of either… but didn’t address all the inconsistencies, nor the fact he referred to some of those questioning him as the “old boys network”.
These are only the latest contradictions from the campaign. Paul Cheng has insisted his campaign is about results not paper, and that London has enough talking and enough studies, time for some action! But he has then stated that some of his first actions as mayoral will be to meet with the top 100 businesses in London and talk with them to find out what they need from city hall, and create plans, including transportation plans, to evaluate what is to be done. Sounds like a lot of talking and studies – all of which are already done. As candidates Swan and Brown have indicated, if Cheng knew his way around City Hall he would already know that, and realize that this work has been done for him.
In an article Wednesday, Cheng himself admitted that his campaign team is “rag-tag”, without experienced team members. Cheng made Tom Linden his campaign manager after he came to Cheng’s door to offer his support, because Linden came across as someone genuine, with his heart in the right place. In speaking to Linden on the phone I was given the same impression – but he immediately admitted to me he was far out of his depth running this campaign. With this knowledge, the glaring errors in the past week make more sense.
This campaign just doesn’t add up.
Worse, Paul Cheng seems like a candidate that sees himself as above the rules. From wondering aloud if all matters before Council even need to go to a vote to now seeing exactly how he runs his own land management business, it’s easy to see the City snared in needless controversy with the OMB and Ontario Ombudsman, should Cheng take office.
I ask anyone considering voting for Paul Cheng to look into his campaign, and these controversies piling up before the big day. The more his campaign is examined, the more it looks like a second rendition of the Fontana years on Council. We know how that story went. I hope that after Election Day, we don’t repeat it.