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No victory party, but a statement all the same

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There were ugly moments. There was mudslinging, and sniping, and nasty behind-closed-doors machinations. There were broken campaign signs, and traffic circles, and rousing robocalls.

Hey, it was an election. And that seems to be what elections become, now.

But on Wednesday night, there was also something sort of beautiful. I was preparing to zip off to the Mynarski ward -- a tight and open six-candidate race where a coin flip had determined I'd watch results come in at Ross Eadie's campaign office -- when I got an email from candidate Trevor Mueller's campaign.

Mueller, a young guy making his first run at civic office, and candidate Greg Littlejohn, a lawyer and indefatigable community-centre advocate, had decided to team up and watch the election results come in together at a North End club. After all that's been said and done in this election, it was nice to see two competing candidates shake hands and show true respect.

But it wasn't just that they were watching the results together. It was also where they were watching. For their campaign wrap-up, the candidates had chosen Club 13, the bar at the Andrew Mynarski (VC) Legion on Main Street. That's the same place where, in July 2009, 50-year-old Cheryl Robert was shot and killed while attending a wedding reception in the legion's social hall.

Robert was a true innocent victim, a bystander slain when a gunman burst into the social hall's back door and fired into the crowd. Her murder is still unsolved; it is believed the shooter may have been aiming for known gang members who were at the reception.

Since then, there have been more bullets, more bodies, more innocent lives snapped short in the North End. In some cases, there are suspects in custody. In others, such as that of the terrifying and apparently random shootings last Saturday that left two men dead and a teen girl fighting to heal, the killers are still out there, somewhere.

All this is why it struck me that Littlejohn and Mueller chose Club 13 for their last stand. With the votes already cast, neither had a chance at immediate gain from the public-relations aspect; they didn't even plan to widely release the location. They just decided to go there, whether the media came or not, whether anyone noticed or not.

In other words, when countless others in the city were watching the candidates and when many candidates were watching out for themselves, Littlejohn and Mueller were looking back to the community.

When they finally did tell media about their party, they explained themselves simply. "(Club 13 is) a symbol of the North End's courage to overcome the stigma of crime," Mueller said in a last-minute announcement. "The candidates want to assure the community of their ongoing commitment to work together to deal with the most pressing issues in our neighbourhoods."

At first, the mood was lightly festive. A little exhausted, a little eager. Mayoral candidate Rav Gill showed up. Soft-spoken Littlejohn sipped a drink and waited to break open the plates of kolbassa and perogies. Going to Club 13 with Mueller was "part of bringing back the neighbourhood," he said. "This place suffered terribly last year, and we wanted to make a show of support for it again."

In the end, neither Littlejohn or Mueller won the city council seat in Mynarski. That victory went to Ross Eadie, a veteran NDP-backed candidate who soared past the whip-smart, Katz-aligned Jenny Motkaluk. Littlejohn came in third, with 20 per cent of the vote; Mueller, who earned the praise of many for a positive and community-focused campaign, was squeezed out with 3 per cent.

After nailing down a story for Thursday's paper from Eadie's victory party, I went back to Club 13. Why? Because they had a pickle plate. Because it was on the way home. But mostly because I wanted to pay respect to a pair of candidates who, in the dying minutes of a hard-fought campaign, looked to each other, and to the people who are fighting to make it work every single day.

The North End has been through a lot. It still goes through a lot. Violence there is "the new normal," blogger Rob Galston wrote in a stunning recent post. But the North End also has some of the best people in the city. It has more than its fair share of incredibly talented, active, and vocal advocates for communities, for people, for children, against poverty. The North End is full of life and, despite all odds, hope.

And so, in the final campaign act of Littlejohn and Mueller, maybe we see the hint at another "new normal." And maybe it's one where who goes to City Hall doesn't matter so much as who stays behind, shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbours and saying, simply "we are here."

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