There were a few broken hearts Sunday afternoon at Steelworkers Hall when Joe Cimino, city councillor and special education teacher, won the nomination to run for the NDP in Sudbury in the next provincial election.
You could forgive supporters of his opponent, Paul Loewenberg, for being upset. The Townehouse Tavern bar manager, despite never having been elected to public office, came within a whisker of winning the seat in 2011. He was up against Rick Bartolucci, who most assumed would cruise to an easy victory, as he had done since winning for the first time in 1995.
You would think the re-election of a cabinet minister with a list of accomplishments like Bartolucci’s would be automatic. Not so much. As Loewenberg learned Sunday, when forces beyond your control are at work, any politician is vulnerable.
The 2011 vote created huge expectations for Sudbury’s New Democrats, particularly with Bartolucci stepping down and no obvious successor in sight. A long-term Liberal riding was up for grabs and everyone knew it.
But it was well known many in the NDP weren’t happy with the prospect of Loewenberg running again. He won the nomination in 2011 by signing up large numbers of new members, many of whom knew him from the Townehouse or in his role as artistic director of Northern Lights Festival Boreal. They tended to be younger, idealistic and, like Loewenberg, firmly on the party’s left wing.
Not such a big deal when he was expected to be an another also-ran to Bartolucci, but the rapid demise of the Liberal brand in Sudbury took everyone by surprise. This time, the NDP will be frontrunners – and that means far more scrutiny from the media and opponents.
All of which meant the party felt it needed a candidate with real political experience. As much as Loewenberg supporters believe Sudburians were voting for him in 2011, it’s more likely they were voting against the Liberals.
The same scenario took place in 1990, when Bob Rae stunned the province by sweeping to power. Sharon Murdock won an upset victory in Sudbury, joining an inexperienced group of MPPs. It took at least two years before the government found its footing and by then, voters were waiting for a chance to turf them out. They have been in the political wilderness ever since.
That shadow looms over today’s NDP, who are determined things will be different this time. They need experienced people, or risk another spectacular failure – and another 25 years of nipping at the heels of the Tories and Liberals. So the party recruited Cimino, hauled out the big guns to back him and, in the end, got their way.
It was a crushing defeat for Loewenberg’s backers Sunday, who could not have been more visible as they walked out en masse wearing their bright orange Loewenberg T-shirts. The NDP as a party made a statement it’s serious about winning. That Loewenberg is a victim of the party’s broader success is, no doubt, cold comfort for the broken hearts in the orange Ts.
Darren MacDonald covers city hall and politics for Northern Life.