In an attempt to determine if any last-minute candidates had filed their papers for the November 13 municipal election, and having been otherwise disposed Friday afternoon, I was at the Journal Argus office after-hours examining the evidence on the editor's desk and computer desktop. (By the way: sorry about the coffee-stained mouse pad.) I discovered a couple of one-page manifestos from would-be councillors, and then thought I'd hit the jackpot: a folder on the computer titled: "candidate pics/dog."
I couldn't figure out if the "dog" part was some sort of anagram -- perhaps meaning "democratic operation game" or "desires our government." But as I opened the first two picture files in the folder, I was heartened to see the smiling faces of two local gentlemen -- both of whom seemed like logical candidates for becoming a candidate -- appear on the screen.
The third file, however, caused some confusion. It was another smiling face, to be certain -- indeed, the smile was much wider (and toothier) than any previously-viewed candidate. And the setting for the photo seemed appropriate: a generic small-town atmosphere. But after reviewing the rules about who's allowed to put their name forward for St. Marys town council, I realized the problem- the post is limited to the human species.
I had, in fact, happened upon a series of photos of the homeless dog found wandering the Farmers' Market two weeks ago. (One of the photos is featured in this week's newspaper, as part of an attempt to find the pooch a porch.) I was struck suddenly with the urge to write an entire column of jokes about why town council would be a perfect home for Fido. After all, it does seem ironic that someone with such obvious charisma and photogenic appeal should happen upon the Stonetown at just this moment.
I resisted the temptation, however, and returned to the task at hand: my first post-nomination-deadline column. But I quickly realized it wasn't going to be the first incidence of confusing a candidate with a non-candidate. That's because, I decided I would go online and discover what type of Internet presence each St. Marys candidate boasted.
I was inspired, in part, by a dispute in Richmond Hill, where one candidate proceeded directly from filing his papers at the municipal offices to his lawyer's office. There, he paid his lawyer to snap up all the website domain names closely related to his most significant rival. As a result, when she wanted to attach a dot-com or a dot-ca to her name and create a campaign website, it was impossible.
Well, there's no chance of that here. No St. Marys candidates have a website -- at least not one that's easily recognizable.
There's a www.tonywinter.com, but it's just an uninspiring series of links to websites providing such services as dating, legal defense against drunk driving charges, and financial advice.
Among councillor hopefuls, Dave Cunningham surely comes out ahead when it comes to people who have the same name but aren't the same person. Both www.davecunningham.com and www.davecunningham.ca are occupied on the Internet, with neither one pertaining to the tall guy from St. Marys. One, who claims to be "your mortgage expert" in Calgary, looks remarkably like the tall guy from St. Marys, though -- at least from the neck up.
There are no websites inspired by Jamie Hahn's name, but he does pop up in several incarnations when his name is typed into an internet search engine. There's the Jamie Hahn who's a nutrition expert in Nebraska, the one who's a photographer in North Carolina, and the one who's a member of Black Hills State University's women's 4x800m relay team in South Dakota.
There's an environmental scientist named Jim Swan, who uses his website to display photos from his frequent trips to Africa. A Wayne Murray sells very beautiful homes in Washington State. And "from the desk of Bruce Symons," one annoyingly bold-faced website offers free training about how you can earn millions of dollars online, from the comfort of your own home.
(It sounds like a shady proposition, perhaps even illegal. Symons should beware. According to a recent report from England, almost 1,500 people have been wrongly given criminal records because they share the same name as real criminals. "Law-abiding citizens have been labelled as pornographers, thieves and violent robbers as a result of the bungle by the department's Criminal Records Bureau," states one online report.)
When it comes to online references to the real St. Marys town council candidates, Cunningham has an advantage. He only recently was a candidate for the federal Liberal Party, which at the time had the financial and technical wherewithal to make sure their candidates' names got bounced around the Internet.
The prospective newcomers, and even veteran comeback hopeful Hahn -- the majority of whose municipal exploits occurred when online publishing was less than ubiquitous -- are bound to yield less hits in an online search. Current council members, meanwhile, tend to turn up more frequently, if only due to their occasional presence in a local media report.
Gerry Teahen is the clear winner in this regard. Type his name into a search engine and you probably won't find anyone else with the same name. Instead, you'll be reminded repeatedly that our very own councillor/would-be-mayor has a nephew, Mark Teahen, who plays professional baseball. The younger Teahen mentioned his less-famous uncle on the player's blog section of the Kansas City Royals website, and that reference now pops up in scattered Internet locations.
Aside from the baseball references, a good portion of the citations Gerry Teahen receives on various websites are followed by negative comments by those running the websites. Teahen, it seems, is an overwhelmingly popular target for a series of online blogs specializing in criticizing the Pyramid Recreation Centre.
Is any publicity better than no publicity in the world of online politics? Perhaps in Richmond Hill. But in St. Marys, it seems like people will have to physically move away from their computer screens to find out who the real candidates are.