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SECRET NIGHT AT THE IZBA
Could Ward 2 councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski's fundraiser last November have been more smoke- and-mirrors than dine-and-dance?

by
PAUL PALANGO

In 1988, serious concerns were being raised in public about the manner in which municipal politicians were financing their election campaigns. Toronto City Council reacted with a bylaw regarding conflict of interest.

The bylaw demands that any candidate must make public all gifts exceeding $100 from a single source during an election year (see Municipal Elections Act sidebar). What the bylaw ignores are the years between election campaigns.

The underlying assumption seemed to be that individuals and corporations would not likely contribute money to any councillor in non-election years, because there are no tax incentives to do so (this occurs at the federal and provincial levels).

But such has not been the case.

It has become regular practice among municipal politicians to hold fundraisers without fanfare in off-election years. The problem for the public is that there is no way to know who is giving money to whom and what favors that contributors might be extracting in return.

Some of these fundraisers are modest affairs, like the one held May 14 at the Europa banquet centre on Dundas W. by a coalition of NDP politicians who represent the neighborhood: Toronto Councillor Martin Silva, Metro Councillor Joe Pantalone and school trustees Fiona Chapman and Beare Weatherup.

The Europa gathering was the 13th annual dinner dance for constituents who paid $35 each, the money raised dedicated to keeping open the constituency office they all share. It was well advertised and about 230 to 250 people showed up. With few exceptions, most were from the community. It seemed like a relatively harmless event.

"After expenses, we hoped to raise about $3,000," said David English, Pantalone's assistant, in an interview.

Then there are fundraising nights like the one held by Ward 2 Councillor Chris Korwin- Kuczynski last Nov. 12 at the Izba Restaurant in his neighborhood.

Few seemed to know about the event, for which there was a $100 per person cover charge. In fact, K-K, as he is known, invited people to contribute more than $100 and even asked those who were not attending the dinner to send along their money. At least 100 people attended.

In a speech at the dinner and in an interview afterward with eye , K-K said the dinner was being held to raise money for local projects, particularly a volunteer community group called the West End Drug and Crime Prevention. Its members were reportedly picking up used needles left by drug abusers on streets and in parks. The Izba money was to pay for the group's phones, among other things, K-K said.

When asked whether he would provide a public accounting of the funds raised, as well as his list of contributors from the Izba event, K-K said that he would. However, over the past six months K-K has not responded to numerous verbal and written requests by eye for such an accounting. The most recent request was faxed May 13. K-K was given a deadline of noon Tuesday, May 18, to respond.

He didn't, so eye pieced together K-K's night at the Izba from notes, the licence plates of vehicles driven by people seen entering or leaving the event and through interviews with them.

On the night the dinner was held, K-K was a more powerful man on City Council than he is today. Along with former budget chief Tom Jakobek, he was stripped of many of his key responsibilities over the winter by the majority of the members of City Council. But on Nov. 12, he was a lot of things: a member of the city's budget review group, the executive committee, the economic development committee and the West Toronto Industrial Co-ordinating Committee; chairman of the the Board of Health and its drug abuse sub-committee; and a member of the nominating committee for all citizen appointments to various boards, committees and commissions.

K-K's ward is on the edge of much planned development, including the CNE grounds, the former Massey Ferguson site on King W. and potential redevelopment of the Gardiner Expressway, not to mention public housing in Parkdale.

Those who attended the dinner seemed to be a mix of powerful land development interests, other business people seeking contracts from the city, still others with business before committees which K-K chaired or sat on and many members of the Polish community, such as Stanley Godzisz, then president of the Polish Alliance of Canada. The Poles provide much of K-K's political strength in Ward 2. Many if not most guests at the dinner had a potential pecuniary interest in matters touching on K-K's political turf.

While most seemed to pay for the dinner, others such as planning consultant Vincenzo Tassone, said he received two free tickets from K-K, odd for a fundraising event. Tassone, like many of the guests, came from outside the ward.

As was reported in our first story about the Izba last fall, developer Walter Jensen, a neighbor of K-K, was at the Izba with his wife and three children. Jensen is connected to CN Realty, Marathon Realty and recently made a deputation at City Hall on behalf of Cast-Hanna-Inglis Properties Inc., which is developing property in the west end.

Also prominent among the Izba guests were land development lawyer Allan Blott and his wife Catherine. In the mid-'80s, Blott's role in Toronto municipal politics was the focus of a series of articles in The Globe and Mail that helped to lead to the conflict-of-interest reforms created by the city. In one memorable anecdote Blott was reported to be seen giving hand signals to politicians who were getting ready to vote on a sensitive development-related issue.

Blott weathered that storm and continues to be a powerful force, particularly among right-wing councillors and centrists such as Betty Disero. Blott did not respond to requests for an interview.

Linda Lynch, who operates Environment Watch Inc. out of Blott's University Ave. offices, was also at the Izba. Two elections ago, the tough-talking Lynch ran against Peter Tabuns in Ward 8 and lost. Through her company she acts as an environmental consultant and counts among her clients a number of multinational companies and local land developers.

Lynch said she went to the fundraiser only because she heard the money would be used in the community, adding, "I wasn't there to support K-K. In fact, he was surprised to see me."

Another guest was municipal lawyer Barry Horosko, identified from his vehicle licence plate -- 984 HJR. Horosko works in the firm of Bratty and Partners in North York, whose principal, Rudy Bratty, is considered one of the most prominent land developers in the Metro Toronto region.

Horosko says he attended the dinner because he considered the Parkdale area his home. Horosko said he also attended the May 14 dinner-dance put on by NDPers at the Europa.

"I lived in Parkdale for six years," Horosko said in an interview. "I'm the ex-vice- president of the Parkdale Lions Club. I do a lot of community work down there. I go door- to-door for the Salvation Army in Parkdale. Any inference that my attendance at the dinner was for other reasons would be wrong."

The Izba event was by invitation only. Since K-K refuses to release the guest list, it has been virtually impossible to identify everyone who was there, since some did not travel in personal vehicles and there was more than one person in others.

People in the construction and development industry were present in numbers, though. One of the biggest companies in the development business is engineering consultants Delcan Corporation of Don Mills, which finds itself involved in many public projects. It was represented at the Izba by its Toronto manager Brian Henderson and structural engineer Vic Anderson.

Gojko (Gordon) Kuzmanovic, who operates a couple of companies, G.K. Associates Construction Inc. and Industrial Financial Services Ltd., was also at the Izba. In recent years Kuzmanovic has been involved in a number of controversies in Parkdale dealing with the construction and operation of bachelorette apartments.

Developer Stanley M. Garden arrived at the dinner driving a station wagon bearing outdated signs championing June Rowlands for mayor. Garden's car was registered to Autoworld Ltd., which seems to be little more than a shell company that Garden operates out of an apartment in the posh Colonnade complex at 131 Bloor W.

Then there was Morris G. Adams, of Manston Construction, who at the time was planning to build in the area, but has since died. That night at the Izba Adams parked his Mercedes -- licence number MGA6, in front of the restaurant. He ran into K-K as they met at the door and hugged him, giving him a big "How are you?"

Among others at the dinner was Ed Negridge, a former city alderman considered to be one of the biggest power brokers in Parkdale and a silent force in the land development business in the ward.

eye confirmed that there were about six representatives from the brewing industry at the Izba at a time when the health board was considering restrictions on alcohol advertising, but they could not be positively identified. One person who showed up, Diane Stefaniak of the Ontario Hotel and Motel Association, addressed the health board a few days before the fundraiser about her group's concerns about the board's plans.

The waste hauling industry was also prominent. Foremost among attendees was Frank J. Paznar of Laidlaw Waste Systems, who arrived in his 1989 Jaguar Sovereign. According to Linda Lynch and Paznar there were many people from the industry at the dinner.

Lawyers were larded throughout the crowd -- Marek Z. Tufman of Bay St., John Frank Stroz of Dundas W. and Stanley Raymond Budd, who has an office on Yonge. Budd carried home four unidentified acquaintances from the dinner in his Stutz Bearcat, licence number A STUTZ.

There were mystery men such as Cau A. Tieu, local businessmen such as John Reid- Weston and one of his associates from Pekao Trading Co. Ltd., which has an office just across from the Izba, and nursing home operators such as Ivor Zagnoev, who runs Parkdale's Spencer House for Leisureworld Inc. "The company paid for my ticket and sent me to the dinner," Zagnoev said in an interview.

In the end it's all a guess as to who attended the dinner and how much was actually raised by K-K, since he's not telling. However, this much is known: K-K said the West End Crime and Drug Prevention group would benefit from the proceeds of the dinner.

Last fall, the group, which seemed to be a loose connection of ham radio and police buffs, was operating out of a room next door to the current location of the Guardian Angels, the controversial NYC-based volunteer patrol organization that moved into Parkdale last year.

A few weeks after the Izba fundraiser, West End Crime and Prevention ceased to exist. As a spokesperson for the Guardian Angels put it in an interview: "They weren't really a group. They were just a couple of people hanging around. They evaporated in January or February."

eye has been unable to find a spokesperson for the group and could not ascertain how much money, if any, it had received from the Izba proceeds.

Therein lies the nub of the problem of off-year political fundraising, where there are no tax receipts required, no list of contributors published and no public accountability process evident.

By conservative estimates, K-K raised a minimum of $10,000 at the Izba. "I went to the fundraiser because I thought the money was going to community projects," said Linda Lynch. "If it didn't, I'd be extremely disappointed."

But the question remains: Who gave how much and where did the Izba money go?

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