Trying to figure out exactly what it is Dennis O'Keefe is going to do if he's elected mayor of St. John's again is a bit like playing pin the tail on the donkey.
You can't see (through all the rhetoric) and you're in a spin (from all his political vacillations).
Mercifully, fuzzy election promises don't quite cut it anymore.
At long last, as we have seen and heard in the days leading up to Sept. 29, voters and savvy candidates are no longer satisfied with empty platitudes and old-school speechifying. They want straight-up, concise answers, and they want them now. No more waffling. No more empty spiels.
O'Keefe and others whose campaigns are awash in tired rhetoric - despite their use of modern technologies - should take notice.
Here's a case in point: in discussing his "vision" for the city during a CBC Radio-moderated debate Tuesday, O'Keefe sounded like he was channeling Joey Smallwood. This isn't the mayor's city, he said, or the deputy mayor's city or a councillor's city; this is the people's city.
Blah, blah, blah.
"What we need to do when this election is over is sit down as a group of people who are interested in the future growth and development of this city and create a vision …," he said.
No surprise there. Whenever there's an election looming, St. John's tends to have more visionaries per capita than a psychics' convention.
Politicians would be wise not to waste precious airtime with such prattle.
To be fair, O'Keefe is far from being the only candidate who says a lot but offers little. But he is the incumbent for the mayoralty of the capital city, and he's had a dozen years to hone his image and sharpen his campaign strategy.
And while he might protest that he is a fresh and innovative thinker who has been "dialoguing" for years, in reality his campaign rests heavily on his laurels, and those are looking pretty darned skimpy.
Putting aside his unfortunate choice of campaign images (a rubber stamp), O'Keefe has chosen one word to sum up why you should vote for him - "Proven" - which could be taken to mean he deserves your vote for stuff he's already done and shouldn't be expected to trouble himself again on your behalf.
One of the things he's done, remember, was to state publicly in 2001 that he would "never entertain a proposal for a supermarket or anything of that nature on the banks of Quidi Vidi Lake."
By 2005, he was singing a dramatically different tune: "The more I dig into the issue, the more inclined I am to support the Loblaw proposal …"
His penchant for political flip-flops is, well, proven.
Gee … maybe that's not such a bad slogan for him after all.
These days, he's talking about his "mission to achieve four major objectives in four years," yet his website uses up far more space boasting about the past than setting objectives for the future.
His plan for infrastructure development, for example, is as clear as a view of The Narrows on a foggy day:
"Going forward, I will continue to build on the relationships I have developed with both levels of government, and with the Big Cities Mayors Caucus to ensure that we get the necessary revenues to rebuild and renew old infrastructure and develop our new projects for the benefit of our generations to come."
These sorts of passive generalities simply won't do.
What new projects? What if the money doesn't come through from other levels of government? Do we go without? Is the incumbent mayor aware that one of his favourite planks - the harbour cleanup - while undoubtedly a massive and necessary infrastructure project, has turned the drive through downtown into a motorist's nightmare and is likely diverting business away from the core of the city? What has his leadership done about that?
One of the most telling moments during Tuesday's radio debate came when a member of the public stressed the need for a better public transportation system.
O'Keefe responded by saying there was a need to encourage a better and expanded Metrobus for the city and the region - that it was the way of the future.
He was promptly reminded that public transit needs to be dealt with now, not in the future.
Like an old sock
Now, O'Keefe has a base of support that may well see him re-elected on Sept. 29.
And the mail-in ballot system will likely work in his favour, since it allows voters to tick off familiar names and send their ballot in long before the campaign has ended and newcomers have had a chance to present their platforms and debate the issues.
And that's not even taking into account the glitches in the mail-in system that have seen the wrong ballots sent to the wrong wards and multiple ballots sent to single-family homes.
But if he is re-elected, let's hope he's learned something from this exercise.
Because it's not enough to say, "As Mayor, I will continue to build relationships with developers and the business community to ensure revenues for the City."
Or that "(w)e must do all we can to ensure that St. John's becomes the most progressive, exciting capitol in all of Canada."
(I think you mean "capital," Doc).
Here's what I've learned, for what it's worth.
There are three candidates for mayor of St. John's in this election.
Two of them seem to get that there's more to the job than "dialoguing," cutting ribbons and greeting cruise ships, and that old-school politics is definitely passÉ.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached
by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.