09.22.2018 09:09 AM

Nick and me



Those who know me from campaigns know I liked to quote a line (wrongly) attributed to the Kennedys: “Never forgive, never forget.”

It’s a campaign pose, mostly. Political consultants and staffers and war roomers will say stuff like that, sometimes. It suggests that they’re tough and uncompromising and have their steely gaze fixed on victory. Stuff like that.

But it’s bullshit, mostly. Even the toughest political sonofabitch bleeds. Even Lee Atwater had regrets (read his book). Even Warren has bad days on the campaign trail (read his books).

Back in 2014, I and quite a few others felt Rob Ford needed rehab, not another stint in the mayor’s office. I went looking for a candidate. When John Tory wasn’t entering the mayoral race, I agreed to support Olivia Chow.

It was a big mistake. She was a terrible candidate. Terrible. Her campaign manager didn’t know what he was doing. And the New Democrats around Chow – as I soon learned – are a closed shop. If you belong to another political persuasion, as I did, they will never fully let you in the door.

Anyway, I made another big mistake, as war roomers often do. When you are doing quick response, 24/7, mistakes are inevitable, pretty much. What matters, then, is not the mistakes per se – it’s how the campaign handles those mistakes.

Olivia Chow handled my tweeted “segregation track?” mistake by lying. She lied, and said I was just a “volunteer” – when I was running her war room, and when she was paying my firm to do work. Her senior guys implored me not to quit – but I quit. And so began a few bad days.

The very first phone call came from Doug Ford, who I had been talking to throughout the 2014 race. Doug was exceedingly kind to me, and we remained friends thereafter. I don’t always agree with guy, but I like the guy, and I don’t give a shit who approves. (So spare me your disapproving tweets.)

Anyway. Apologies for the lengthy prelude. I will now get to the point.

Nick Kouvalis is widely considered one of the top political minds in Canada. Nick – who was supporting John Tory in 2014, as I had in both 2003 (when John had a glorious run) and 2010 (when I couldn’t persuade John to run) – said I had been fired. He said I was a loser and stuff like that.

I was certainly a loser, at that point, sure. But I hadn’t been fired. I quit. I had the emails and texts to prove it.

So, I made another mistake. When Nick wouldn’t retract, I sued him for libel. We were thereafter locked in mortal/legal combat, like the two alternate-universe Captain Kirks in the aptly-titled The Enemy Within. It was nasty.

Then, in April 2016, Nick was arrested and charged with drunk driving. It was in the Windsor paper. Lots of people started mocking him for his disease. They commenced gleefully kicking him when he was down.

Me? I couldn’t. I didn’t.

I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t take any drugs. I didn’t (and don’t) understand addiction. But, at that moment, I just felt badly for him, even though we had been mortal enemies.

It had happened before. Ottawa journalist Mark Bourrie and me had been blood enemies, and then his Dad died, and I was reminded that Mark was human. With the encouagement of John Tory – who is a genius at bringing people together, not dividing them – me and Nick made up. (Same thing happened with Jaime Watt and Robin Sears: I was reminded that they were human beings, too, and that they bled and all that. So I stopped fighting with them.)

Me and Nick stopped fighting. I reached out directly, told him the lawsuit thing was over. We decided to meet.

And so began a friendship that will last until I die, pretty much. We couldn’t be more different – but in a lot of ways, we’re not. We talk several times a day. Lisa calls us “the boyfriends,” we talk so much.

Now, lots of people know that Nick is brilliant and strategic and always focussed on the win.

But not enough people know that he isn’t a racist, for example. I’ve spent most of my life documenting and fighting racism – Hell, Lisa and I are taking two racists to court next month for threatening to kill us – and I know real racists. Nick – the Windsor boy from a mixed-race, mixed-faith family – isn’t one. He isn’t.

Anyway. I’ve gone on too long. Apologies. I just have two pieces of old-guy advice to pass along.

One, don’t just be a political partisan. Be a partisan about people. In my old age, that’s what I now do: I support my friends, whatever their political party may be.

Two, don’t buy into this “never forgive, never forget” bullshit that I did, for way too long.

Like they say: life is too short. Sure: be passionate, be driven, be committed, be loyal. But don’t ever forget that the other guy is human.

Nick’s human. I am too.

We’re friends. Deal with it.

12 Comments

  1. Pipes says:

    Sage advice. Comes with maturity aka old age.

  2. Adam Jackson says:

    This is pure, genuine advice and a life lesson, we find more in common with each other when given the chance and sober second thought. There is nothing wrong with political disagreement but we all put our socks on the same way, have families, go through tough times etc. The more compassionate and understanding we are with and to each other is what makes us all better. Sure, maybe it sounds naive, but it’s been proven, so these are really good words Warren. All the best.

  3. Peter says:

    I really don’t know who he is, but I find this very moving, especially from one who can be as choleric as you. Kudos.

    By chance, an exchange I’m having with a longtime blogging friend about political turmoil in his country (not the States) has me reflecting how hard it is becoming to live out such decent sentiments in the era of social media. An article describing the turmoil contains the following gem: “Many urbane ********** have been shocked to see old friends backing him on social media, which has become a poisoned agora in which people on all sides have been slamming shut the window of friendship and storming off to coddle their alternative versions of the truth.”

  4. Sean says:

    Very true Warren. One thing I have enjoyed about municipal elections is how it brings people together of different parties. Lefties realize that conservatives actually do make some good points about business. Tories realize lefties know something about social issues. Talking points tend to emanate from reality, rather than over the top spin doctors out for blood. Since the ballots include several races, candidates are more careful with their rhetoric. They know that a lot of people might be voting for a conservative mayor, a socialist councilor and a liberal school board trustee, so they watch what they say.

  5. Michael Demone says:

    Hi Warren,

    I admit that I’ve been hoping for some insight into your relationship with Nick. I don’t know the man, apart from the odd news piece which usually casts him as a necessary but unsavoury character.

    What is it that makes him a great strategic mind?

    Thanks,

    Michael

  6. Gyor says:

    Very wise. Honestly I’m bad at keeping a grudge long term, with a few exceptions. Life IS short.

  7. Jamie Gilcig says:

    I’ve been hyper non partisan politically now for over a decade and will never go back.

    We need to find common ground in this world and not focus on what divides us.

  8. Andrew Prescott says:

    It always boggled my mind that two of my favourite politicos were mortal enemies. Was thrilled to see you two make peace. I pity the fools you go up against if you ever team up on a campaign!!! (And I want in on that gig, for what it’s worth! LOL)

  9. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    Amen.

    Yeah, looks like Don’t get mad, get even predates RFK, JFK and even the old man, Joseph P. Kennedy.

  10. Al Zwikker says:

    Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape…

  11. Luke says:

    It makes me happy to hear you dispensing with the never forgive, never forget mantra. That thinking is depressing, a distillation of hopelessness for individual betterment, and thus, belief in people’s humanity.

    Wise words in this post, old man.

  12. Mike Sloan says:

    I’ve found Nick to be a very decent and thoughtful guy on a personal level. No, I don’t know him well, and only through Twitter DM’s. He’s had an addiction issue which has been well publicized and it’s unfortunate. I don’t think that convicts him of being a terrible person though. He has his issues as everyone does.

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