Toronto's "Bad Boy" mayor Lastman silences critics FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 14 Aug 1998 07:17:11 -0700 (PDT)

[Toronto mayor] Lastman recently called squeegee kids "a bunch of thugs"
and asked "What the hell do you need a squeegee for when you've got
windshield wipers?"  -- from article below
FWD  Nando Times  August 11, 1998


     By Jason Hopps, Reuters

TORONTO (August 11, 1998 11:06 a.m. EDT - He
wrote to "Ginger Spice" pleading with her to stay with the Spice Girls,
rode a firetruck in a gay pride parade and once sold a refrigerator to an
Eskimo as a Guinness Book of World Records stunt.

He is now drawing fire over a plan to build a massive entertainment complex
called the "Technodome." All this and the millionaire mayor of Canada's
largest city as well.

"I don't try to be anybody else, I don't want to be anybody else," Mayor
Mel Lastman said in his modern glass-and-steel offices near the heart of
Toronto's booming financial district. "Accept me for what I am or don't
accept me at all. I'll just go back to making money," the 65-year-old
former furniture and appliance salesman said.

During a headline-grabbing first seven months in office, the diminuative
mayor dubbed the "Ed Koch of Canada" after New York's flamboyant former
chief executive has mugged for the camera and been splashed across the
pages of Toronto dailies more than any other political figure.

He has enraged detractors who call him heartless and been lauded by
supporters who say his brash ways get the job done.

Lastman recently called squeegee kids "a bunch of thugs" and asked "What
the hell do you need a squeegee for when you've got windshield wipers?" But
only days later he announced a million-dollar youth training program,
telling reporters: "Let's give them a chance. Let's help them get off

This is the enigma Torontonians call the "Bad Boy."

'Temporary insanity'

"How I got started in politics?" He considers the question, then quips:
"Temporary insanity. I was a happy guy, I was running a business, I had 40
stores and was making a hell of a lot of money but I was bored and needed
something else to do."

That was 25 years ago. Last November he was elected the first mayor of a
new "megacity" after Toronto merged with five neighboring municipalities,
including North York, where Lastman served as a wildly popular mayor from
1972 to 1997.

Civic groups bitterly fought the "megacity" idea and also fought Lastman,
painting him as a money-driven businessman desperately out of touch with
the realities of inner-city life. His detractors' concerns were exacerbated
when, in a famous campaign faux pas, he told a reporter there were no
homeless people in North York. The next day, police found a homeless woman
dead at a North York service station.

Despite the setback, Lastman's campaign steamrolled and he easily defeated
incumbent Barbara Hall with his pro-development promises. He is now mayor
to more than 4.5 million people, about fifteen percent of Canada's total
population, and is fighting hard to bring Toronto the 2008 Olympic summer

"Barbara Hall did not push development, she stalled development, but
Toronto is now open for business and we're doing business," Lastman said,
noting a recent report that pegs Toronto's as the fastest growing economy
in Canada. "Toronto is booming and it's the attitude of a businessman
coming in here and running the place that's changed things."

'Got to have a touch of class'

As Lastman talks development the excitement in his voice grows and his
language becomes more colorful: "Take a look at Yonge Street, it looks like
a flea market. It's the longest street in the world but it looks like hell.
There's a big store there that hangs jeans and ladies clothes outside and
that's bullshit. This is Yonge Street, it's got to have a touch of class. I
want this to be a great city."

But others who also want a great city do not necessarily want Lastman
running it. Critics cringe at his excesses, especially his $660 million
(U.S.) "Technodome" dream, a leviathan indoor theme park replete with
rollercoasters and a man-made lake tentatively planned for Toronto's

City Councillor Olivia Chow is candid about her preference for mayor. "In
my ward 80 percent of the people voted for Barbara Hall," she said, but she
added, "I'm a flexible person and I make do."

Chow, who unsuccessfully ran as a leftist New Democratic Party candidate in
a federal election, is among many who blush at Lastman's style but have
slowly been won to his side.

"The arts community voted for Barbara Hall, the gay community by-and-large
voted for Barbara Hall, but Lastman has reached out to both of these
groups. I think he knows full well that he represents all of Toronto," said
Chow, whom Lastman named as the city's child advocate.

"Mel surrounds himself with smart people. Instead of isolating those who
didn't support him, he looked at what we're good at and fit the right
person to the right job," she said.

Lastman, who said his personal and political style are all his own, is
modest about future political aspirations. He battled Ontario Premier Mike
Harris over a tax squabble after the birth of the Toronto "megacity" and
boasts of long hours at his current job while other politicians wallow.

"The premier, he's out golfing or fishing and the prime minister (Jean
Chretien) you'll never find, nobody knows where the hell he is," Lastman

Along the corridor leading to his office are framed clips of his frequent
appearances in Toronto newspapers. He points to an editorial cartoon in
which a miniature Lastman is stuck fast to Harris' nose. The cutline reads:
"It's Mel-lignant."

"That's my favorite," Lastman said with a laugh. "See that, I'm a growth on
his nose, and he's not getting rid of me."


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