Mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi received a list of debate organizers from Mayor John Tory’s campaign, according to a Facebook post published Saturday by prominent social justice activist Desmond Cole.
The list, which Cole characterized as “material support,” may have helped Gebresellassi raise her public profile, but it also could have made it easier for Tory to avoid a one-on-one debate with his closest polling challenger, Jennifer Keesmaat.
Cole published the post on social media two days before the municipal vote “out of fear Saron would continue to keep her actions from the community.”
In the post, Cole alleges Gebresellassi told him she accepted a list of contacts for the organizers of the mayoral debates.
“Saron has yet to explain why she privately accepted this support, not just from any candidate, but from the incumbent mayor whose ethics and integrity she has repeatedly questioned during this election,” Cole wrote.
Gebresellassi denied receiving the list in a video published to Facebook and Twitter on Sunday.
“Facts first: I did not receive an email list of organizers of debates from John Tory’s camp. I got into mayoral debates entirely on my own merits and hard work,” she said on Facebook. “We are succeeding and that’s scary to some people.”
Tory’s campaign issued a statement Sunday that confirmed they had been in touch with Gebresellassi’s campaign, but did not address whether a list of debate organizers was provided.
“In every election, campaigns talk to one another. Our campaign was in touch with several mayoral candidates and their campaign teams about debates and other issues,” wrote Tory spokesperson Keerthana Kamalavasan. “Again, this is common practice. To portray it any other way is simply dishonest.”
The issue first came to light during Tory’s appearance on AM 640’s Morning Show last Tueday. Co-host Supriya Dwivedi asked Tory about a text that a producer from Global News received from Gebresellassi before the Oct. 1 televised mayoral debate.
“Sounds great. Toronto will love this. Good move on Tory’s part to have me bring in plot twists,” read the text from Gebresellassi, apparently sent in error because it was almost immediately followed by a second text, which read: “Wrong receipient. See you tomorrow.”
Tory responded by saying he wanted multiple candidates to participate in the debates.
“I put out a statement from day one of the debates that I would want to have other people included in the debates — I didn’t say who it should be — it was up to you, frankly, the organizers,” he said. “We had the same kind of communication with Knia Singh, with Sarah Climenhaga, just to say we are hoping there will be a diversity of candidates included in the debates.”
Co-host Mike Stafford asked Tory: “Would you say, Mayor, she was referencing the fact that you did not want just a one-on-one debate with Ms. Keesmaat?”
“I don’t think she was saying that at all,” Tory responded. “I don’t know what the text was in reference to, and it certainly wasn’t anything that I was involved in personally.”
Cole did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.