|58th Mayor of Toronto|
December 1, 1978 – November 30, 1980
|Preceded by||Fred Beavis|
|Succeeded by||Art Eggleton|
Raised in the Beaches neighbourhood, in Toronto, Sewell attended Malvern Collegiate Institute and the University of Toronto from which he graduated with an English Literature degree in 1961. He earned a law degree from the University of Toronto Law School in 1964 and was called to the bar in 1966.
Sewell first became active in city politics in 1966 when he joined the residents of the Trefann Court Urban Renewal Area in the fight against the expropriation and levelling of the working class and poor neighbourhood. Sewell was also involved in opposing to the building of the Spadina Expressway in the late 1969s and early 1970s. He was first elected to Toronto City Council in 1969 as alderman for Ward 7, a predominantly working class area including St. Jamestown, Regent Park, Don Vale, and Cabbagetown. He also initiated the founding of a community-owned newspaper, Seven News, seen as an alternative to Toronto's corporate-owned daily papers. Sewell went on to become the leader of city council's reform wing. He was elected Mayor of Toronto in 1978. In the 1978 election, the right-wing vote was split between two mayoral candidates, David Paul Smith and Tony O'Donohue. Sewell was able to win the election with less than 50 percent of the vote as he garnered 71,305 votes, while O'Donohue received 62,173 and Smith receiving 45,071.
Mayor of Toronto
Sewell was portrayed as a radical in the media and was dubbed "Mayor Blue Jeans" by the Toronto Sun at a time when wearing denim was still considered an identifier of the counterculture. As an environmentalist famous for riding his bicycle to council, he opposed the development of banking and convention centres in the central business district that would become the hallmark of the mayors who followed. Sewell also established himself as a leading critic of the Toronto Police, demanding greater accountability to the public, and was a leading defender of gay rights, endorsing gay rights activist George Hislop's 1980 candidacy for city council, at a time when it was rare for public figures to express support for same-sex rights.
In the 1980 election, after two years of controversy, pro-development Conservatives and Liberals united behind the candidacy of Art Eggleton. Although Sewell maintained the support of many Red Tories, reform Liberals and New Democrats and won more votes and a larger share of the vote than in 1978, he lost the mayor's office to Eggleton.
Sewell subsequently returned to city council as an alderman in a by-election, to replace Ward 6 alderman Dan Heap who had been elected to parliament, and won re-election in 1982. He retired from municipal politics in 1984 to accept a job as a columnist at the Globe and Mail. He subsequently moved to Now Magazine, then wrote a regular column in Toronto's eye weekly from 1999 to 2005. He has written a number of books and articles on Toronto urban issues.
Sewell served as chair of the Toronto public housing authority from 1986 to 1988 and is an acknowledged urban affairs expert. He has served as chair of the Royal Commission on Planning and Development Reform in Ontario from 1991 to 1993. Sewell was an advisor to East London, South Africa's city council from 1994 to 1999 and as advisor on the re-establishment of local government in Malawi in 2000. Sewell also taught law, politics and social science at York University from 1989 to 1991.
In the late 1990s, Sewell founded the group Citizens for Local Democracy to fight the plans of the provincial Mike Harris government to abolish Metropolitan Toronto and amalgamate its constituent parts into a new City of Toronto "megacity".
In the 1999 Ontario provincial election, Sewell ran as an independent candidate in the riding of Toronto Centre--Rosedale, challenging Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Al Leach to protest the megacity. His entry into the race was controversial, with many activists accusing him of splitting the left-wing vote with the New Democratic Party (NDP). Sewell was also criticized for remaining in the race after Leach, whom he had personally targeted as the minister responsible for amalgamation, withdrew from the contest. The riding was ultimately won by Liberal George Smitherman; Sewell finished third, behind Tory Durhane Wong-Rieger.
In 2005, Sewell was made a member of the Order of Canada. Sewell lives with his wife, Liz Rykert in Toronto.
On June 26, 2006, Sewell announced that he would seek election in Ward 21 running against Joe Mihevc in Toronto's 2006 municipal election. Sewell said that he was motivated to run due to the construction of a streetcar right-of-way along St. Clair Avenue that was supported by Mihevc. He also stated that he was disappointed at the record of Mayor David Miller. "Living in a megacity demands more citizen participation and community consultation, not less," says Sewell. While his candidacy received much publicity in the local media, he was defeated by Mihevc. Sewell received a 3326 votes compared to Mihevc's 8096.
Sewell, a former resident of Riverdale, resides in Ward 21 and has his law office on Beverley Street. He is active in the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition. In November 2008, Sewell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He received chemotherapy and as of November 2009, the cancer is in remission.
|2006 Toronto election, Ward 21|
|Ontario general election, 1999|
|Progressive Conservative||Durhane Wong-Rieger||13640||29.88|
|New Democratic||Helen Breslauer||4019||8.8|
|Family Coalition||Bill Whatcott||232||0.51|
|Natural Law||Ron Parker||205||0.45|
|1982 Toronto election, Ward 6 (Two elected)|
|1980 Toronto election, Mayoral|
|1978 Toronto election, Mayoral|
- Inside City Hall: The year of the opposition (1971) A.M. Hakkert. ISBN 0-88866-507-5
- Up Against City Hall (1972) James Lorimer and Company. ISBN 0-88862-021-7
- Rowland Travel Guide to Toronto (with Charlotte Sykes) (1985) Rowland & Jacob. ISBN 0-921430-00-0
- Police: Urban Policing in Canada (1986) James Lorimer and Company. ISBN 0-88862-744-0
- The shape of the city: Toronto struggles with modern planning (1993) University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-7409-X
- Houses and Homes: Housing for Canadians (1994) James Lorimer and Company. ISBN 1-55028-437-1
- Redeveloping public housing projects (1999) Caledon Institute of Social Policy. ISBN 1-894159-67-5
- Doors Open Toronto, Illuminating the City's Great Spaces (2002) Random House. ISBN 0-676-97498-8
- Mackenzie, a political biography of William Lyon Mackenzie (2002) James Lorimer and Company. ISBN 1-55028-767-2
- A New City Agenda (2004) Zephyr Press. ISBN 0-9734112-2-8
- The Shape of the Suburbs: Understanding Toronto's Sprawl (2009) University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-9587-9
Mackenzie: A Political Biography
- Contenta, Sandro (2009-11-15). "John Sewell proud of a lifetime of ruffling feathers". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. Retrieved 2010-05-07.
- Dineen, Janice; John Spears (1978-11-14). "From hippie alderman to city mayor". The Toronto Star (Toronto). p. A11.
- City Staff (1978-11-14). "Metro Elections, How You Voted, City of Toronto". The Toronto Star (Toronto). p. A12.
- Christie, Alan (1978-11-14). "2-time loser O'Donohue blames split vote". The Toronto Star (Toronto). p. A3.
- City Clerk's Official Declaration 2006