Imagine you’re running for mayor of a medium-sized Canadian city.
You’ve been on city council for several years, but you haven’t done anything in particular to distinguish yourself. In fact, the thing you’re best known for is having an ongoing conflict of interest on the question of whether the city will build a performing arts centre. That’s because you’re the executive director of that city’s orchestra, which would not only play there but has advanced a rather sketchy plan to build the facility itself.
When the voters in your city think about you at all, it’s as a big backer of the disgraced former mayor. He’s at home now, serving a four-month house arrest sentence after being convicted of fraud and breach of trust. But that’s another story.
As an unintended homage to the former mayor, you violate election rules the moment you kick off your campaign by spending lots of money for signs, brochures and a spiffy website before bothering to actually register as a candidate. Details, details.
To divert attention from your fumbled campaign launch, you lash out at one of your principal rivals, saying 41 is too young to be mayor. Nevermind, the 41-year-old in question has been on council the last four years. Only curmudgeons with conflicts of interest need apply for the mayor’s job.
When that comment lands with a thud on the electorate’s doorstep, you find another distraction – sorry, issue – and pounce on that. You bravely vote against spending city dollars to subsidize the redevelopment of a downtown landmark building. By pure coincidence, your two primary opponents support the expenditure. You are the only viable candidate opposed to the plan.
Welcome to the world of Joe Swan, in which the candidate running for mayor of London, Ontario didn’t just vote against the expenditure. Oh no. Candidate Swan held a news conference last week to give some advice to the organization hoping to buy said downtown landmark building. That would be Fanshawe College, bursting at its main campus seams, a college that’s already operating its Centre for Digital and Performing Arts right across the street from the building in question, the former Kingsmill’s department store.
Candidate Swan told Fanshawe College to buy another downtown property. Without knowing the details of Fanshawe’s business plan or specific requirements, Candidate Swan constructively chastised the college for its “wasteful” plan, standing in front of a phalanx of election signs – a sure indication he was earnestly trying to help the college do what’s best, not latching on to a wedge issue and riding it wherever it takes him.
The college’s new president, Peter Devlin, thanked Candidate Swan for his business advice but said Fanshawe will continue plotting its future without his help.
That’s a shame, because looking back in history, it’s clear Candidate Swan has a keen sense of how organizations and businesses should operate, when they should and shouldn’t spend money. And thankfully, he’s not shy about imparting his knowledge publicly so everyone can benefit.
It was Joe Swan who told Henry Ford not to bother with his Model T. “What’s wrong with horses and buggies?”
It was Joe Swan who told Google the Internet was just a fad and wouldn’t catch on. “No one knows what a search engine is, and you should change your company name too. What does Google mean?”
It was Joe Swan who told McDonald’s the world was going vegan. “Concentrate on salads and hummus. You’ll never sell billions and billions of burgers. Trust me.”
It was Joe Swan who told Kodak not to bother investing in digital photography. “You’ve got the film market to yourself. Stick with it.”
It was Joe Swan who told General Electric the light bulb was too finicky to manufacture and distribute.
It was Joe Swan who told Wal-Mart shoppers wanted less selection and higher prices.
It was Joe Swan who mocked the Wright brothers and Alexander Graham Bell.
It was Joe Swan who told Starbucks no one would pay $4.00 for a latte when Folgers instant coffee was available in every grocery store.
It was Joe Swan who looked askance at the guy who fashioned the first wheel. “No practical applications.”
It was Joe Swan who said to Jesus, “No one will remember you when you die.”
Clearly, Joe Swan has an innate sense of right and wrong, good and bad, success and failure. He’s prescient, clairvoyant and eager to help.
Fanshawe College would be crazy to ignore his advice. Just as voters in London, Ontario would be crazy to choose anyone else for mayor this October.