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Can Adam Giambrone Lead a True 'Better Way'?

Another year, another set of great expectations. Can we solve the waterfront (finally)? Can we make the urban vote count in the provincial elections? Can we embrace arts mega-festival with outsize ambitions? Here are five movers and shakers who will leave a footprint - hopefully a good one - on the city in 2007


Adam Giambrone has a résumé unlike any other at City Hall. He’s fluent in Arabic. He’s an archeologist who occasionally flies off to northern Sudan to help excavate an ancient city. He has served as president of the federal NDP. And he’s not yet 30.

Now, Mayor David Miller has put the second-term city councillor (Davenport) in charge of what is perhaps City Hall’s most politically sensitive file: chairing the $1-billion-a-year Toronto Transit Commission.

“The TTC affects everybody in a way that few other municipal services do. Even if you never get on the TTC, without it you’d never get anywhere because of the gridlock,” says Mr. Giambrone, 29.

Less than a month into the job, he has already made some noise, demanding a “cleanliness audit” and declaring that the system’s creaky website needs to start providing riders with up-to-the-minute information. But Mr. Giambrone’s biggest challenge will be to persuade other governments to help pay for Mr. Miller’s TTC expansion plans, which include dedicated streetcar and bus lanes on key suburban routes. His first task will be balancing the books — without slapping riders with another fare increase.

Mr. Miller believes that Mr. Giambrone is up to the job of quarterbacking North America’s third-largest urban transit agency. “He understands public transit. He’s a quick study, and I think we share the same vision of how the TTC should evolve,” the mayor says.

As a rookie councillor, Mr. Giambrone took on some important, if tedious, projects — rewriting council’s procedures and overseeing the design of a lobbyist registry.

As the vice-chair of the TTC, he also impressed many with his cool head during May’s wildcat strike, and is seen as more subdued than his predecessor, Howard Moscoe.

Still, the controversies that nagged Mr. Moscoe this past year did not leave Mr. Giambrone completely untouched. Like Mr. Moscoe, he was also accused of “political interference” by Rick Ducharme when the TTC’s former chief general manager resigned in a huff. The months-long debate over the decision to award a $674-million subway-car contract to Bombardier without competition heated up when it was revealed that Bombardier was inviting people to one of Mr. Giambrone’s fundraisers. (He told them to rescind the invitation.)

Long-time transit advocate Steve Munro says he is “guardedly optimistic” for Mr. Giambrone’s tenure. But he says the TTC chair will have to prove he also has the guts to stand up to council — including Mr. Miller — and demand more city money for public transit.

“He’s the chair. He’s got to fly the flag,” Mr. Munro said. “And that may require him to wave the flag in a different direction than the mayor.”