Mel Lastman

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Melvin Douglas "Mel" Lastman
62nd Mayor of Toronto
In office
January 1, 1998 – November 30, 2003
Preceded by Barbara Hall
Succeeded by David Miller
3rd Mayor of North York
In office
January 1, 1973[1] – December 31, 1997
Preceded by Basil H. Hall
Succeeded by Position abolished[2]
Personal details
Born (1933-03-09) March 9, 1933 (age 81)
Toronto, Ontario
Nationality Canadian
Political party Progressive Conservative
Spouse(s) Marilyn Bornstein
Profession Businessman
Website City of Toronto Profile

Melvin Douglas "Mel" Lastman (born March 9, 1933), nicknamed "Mayor Mel", is a former businessman and politician. He is the founder of the Bad Boy Furniture chain. He served as the mayor of the former city of North York, Ontario, Canada from 1972 until 1997. At the end of 1997, North York, along with five other municipalities, was amalgamated with the city of Toronto. Lastman ran for and won the mayoral race for the new "megacity", defeating incumbent Toronto mayor Barbara Hall. Re-elected in November 2000, he served until his retirement after the 2003 municipal election.

Early life and career[edit]

Lastman was born in Toronto in 1933, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He began his sales career as a child, hawking fruit and vegetables at his family's Kensington Market grocery store.

He met Marilyn Bornstein when he was 16 and she was 13, and they were married five years later. He left school after Grade 12 and, with Marilyn's help, got a job at a College Street furniture store. He quickly established himself as a successful salesman. He switched to selling appliances and promoted himself as "Mr. Laundry" (alias the "Bad Boy"). He opened a small frame building at Kennedy Road and Eglinton in Scarborough, selling used applicances, and then, at age 22, bought out Heather Hill Applicances and established Bad Boy Furniture in 1955.

Having adopted the nickname "the Bad Boy" for himself and developed Bad Boy Furniture into a chain of stores around the Toronto area. "Bad Boy" Lastman was associated with many publicity stunts, including travelling to the Arctic in the 1960s to "sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo."

Lastman sold the chain in 1975 to run for Legislative Assembly of Ontario as a Progressive Conservative candidate. He lost to former Toronto Mayor, Phil Givens, who was running for the Ontario Liberal Party in the Armourdale electoral district.[3] That provincial election was his only election loss throughout his career. The Bad Boy trademark was ultimately acquired by the large furniture chain The Brick but the new owners allowed it to lapse through lack of use until it expired.

In 1991, Lastman's son Blayne and business partner Marvin Kirsh re-launched the chain, over the objections of his father, who felt the economic climate was unsatisfactory. The store was soon memorable to most Southern Ontario television viewers who have seen its commercials. The ads feature Lastman in a cameo appearance, Blayne in a prison suit, and always ended with the line: "Who's better than Bad Boy?... Nooooooobody!"

In 1993, Lastman saw Clinton impersonator Tim Waters on television, and shortly afterwards contacted him and arranged for a commercial to be shot. The commercial featured Waters dressed as Clinton delivering the classic Nooooooobody! line. While merely a mildly amusing commercial to most of the viewing public, Lastman's move attracted attention, as he soon received a letter from the White House requesting that he "cease and desist all unauthorized use of the likeness of the President of the United States of America in advertising of commercial services and products".[4] Lastman refused to stop airing the commercials, and even produced several more, featuring both Waters and a Hillary Clinton impersonator. "Last time I checked," Lastman quipped, "this was Canada, not the 51st state."

Mayorship[edit]

North York[edit]

Lastman entered politics in 1969, when he ran for and was elected to the North York Board of Control. It was there he met another young motivated rising political figure, Paul Godfrey, who would later serve as Metro Chairman.

On December 4, 1972, Lastman was elected mayor of North York by defeating fellow North York city councillor Paul Hunt for the open mayoral seat.[5] Lastman took office on January 1, 1973 and was also automatically a member of Metro Council.[1] Lastman was supported by many in North York for operating that city efficiently and effectively, and for keeping property taxes low. As a result of his efforts to promote development around Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue, the area unofficially became known as the "new downtown" with many office towers and condos springing up in a formerly suburban area. Mel Lastman Square at the North York Civic Centre is named after him.

Lastman joined the Ontario Liberal Party in 1987, although he subsequently claimed that it was the result of a misunderstanding. He agreed to support Norman Gardner's bid for the Liberal nomination in Willowdale, and did not realize that he was also purchasing a party membership card in the process. He did not regret his accidental membership, but said he had no long-term loyalty to the party (Globe and Mail, 28 April 1987).

Lastman was a critic of Metropolitan Toronto's Metro Hall, attacking Metro Council's decision to locate the $220 million building downtown. He argued that it would be more equitable and would have been much cheaper to build the headquarters in the suburbs. Metro Hall was later passed over in favour of City Hall for the future amalgamated city of Toronto. An attempt to put it up for sale only received a maximum bid of $125 million which was far below the construction cost.

Throughout Lastman's political career, he was generally supported by the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals, such as Norman Gardner, Mike Colle, Mike Feldman, Joe Volpe, and David Shiner. Though usually opposed by the New Democratic Party, he did cross party lines to work with left-leaning councillors Jack Layton and Olivia Chow.[6]

Post-amalgamation Toronto[edit]

In 1997, Lastman's position was abolished when the provincial government under Mike Harris amalgamated North York with Scarborough, York, East York, Etobicoke, and Old Toronto, creating a single-tier "megacity" forming the new City of Toronto.

Lastman ran for the mayoralty of the new "megacity" against incumbent Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall. Lastman's electoral victory was credited to his very strong base of support in the suburban cities, namely North York as well as in Etobicoke and Scarborough. Hall had won the majority of the vote in old Toronto, York and East York.

Lastman gained national attention after multiple snowstorms, including the Blizzard of 1999, dumped 118 cm of snow and effectively closed the city.[7] He proceeded to have the Canadian Forces (Army) aid in helping to shovel snow, and use their equipment to augment police and emergency services. The move was ridiculed by some in other parts of the country, fueled in part by the frivolous use of resources.[8][9] He paid back the soldiers by giving them each a free NHL Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey pass in honour of their hard work. These tickets were obtained free of charge due to an agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs' management claiming that if these soldiers had not came out to shovel the snow, then the Leafs game that day wouldn't have had as many people attending.[citation needed] Ten years later, in 2009, Lastman gave an interview to the Toronto Star newspaper, citing he is proud of his decision to bring in the army during the Blizzard of 1999.[10]

Some expected that Lastman would face Independent federal MP John Nunziata in the 2000 municipal election, but Nunziata nixed the rumours when he found that he could not hold onto his seat in Parliament while campaigning for Mayor.

Re-elected in November 2000, with an 80% majority, his closest opponent, civic activist Tooker Gomberg, drew just a little more than 8% of the vote.

Lastman shared Gomberg's three main campaign planks: committing Toronto to 100% recycling diversion by 2010 to replace the controversial Adams Mine plan, agreeing with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to end homelessness in Toronto, and appointing Jane Jacobs, the ethicist and urbanist, to head the Toronto Charter Committee to explore the potential for more autonomy for Toronto. Jacobs had publicly endorsed Gomberg.

Among his accomplishments as mayor of Toronto, Lastman brought World Youth Day to Toronto in 2002. He also succeeded in pushing the construction of the TTC Sheppard line, the first new subway line in decades. He played a key role in the negotiations that had the Empress Walk condominium complex developed and two leading schools refurbished, all without using public funds.[citation needed]

In June 2001, shortly before leaving for Mombasa, Kenya to support Toronto's bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics, he jokingly said to a reporter "What the hell do I want to go to a place like Mombasa?... I'm sort of scared about going out there, but the wife is really nervous. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me." The remarks sparked a firestorm of controversy, with much speculation that they would offend African IOC members and endanger Toronto's bid. Lastman apologized profusely for those remarks. IOC Vice-President Dick Pound later stated that the comments did not affect the outcome of the bid.[11]

In January 2002, Lastman was ridiculed for hugging and shaking hands with members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang when they held a convention in Toronto. Lastman later claimed that he didn't know that the Hells Angels were involved in selling illegal drugs.[12]

During the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis, Lastman did an interview on CNN. When he was asked what the World Health Organization was doing about the crisis, Lastman replied "They don't know what they're talking about. I don't know who this group is. I've never heard of them before."[13]

Personal life[edit]

On January 14, 2003, Lastman announced that he would not run for re-election, citing deteriorating health.

On November 10, 2003, David Miller was elected out of a field of five leading candidates to succeed Lastman as city mayor.

Lastman continues to live in Toronto with his wife and returned to leading the Lastman's Bad Boy Furniture chain in May 2006. Lastman sometimes comments publicly on Toronto affairs, such as in 2007 when the city faced a $575 million shortfall and struggled to make service cuts to immediately save $100 million. Lastman sympathized that provincial downloading had burdened Toronto, but also criticized Miller's service cuts as hurting the quality of life while not going far enough to solve the shortfall. Lastman pointed out that spending had increased by $1.5 billion since he left office, and suggested that councillors had to consider measures such as contracting out services and cutting staff.[14]

After his wife Marilyn was caught shoplifting from an Eaton's store in Toronto, he threatened to kill CITY-TV reporter Adam Vaughan unless he stopped reporting on his family.[15][16]

During his tenure as mayor, Lastman and his wife held a surprise news conference announcing that he had a 14 year long extramarital affair with Grace Louie, a former Bad Boy employee. Louie, along with her two sons by Lastman, sued for 6 million dollars claiming that they were his illegitimate children but had not received sufficient child support. Lastman denied responsibility for the two children and successfully fought them off when they tried to claim a share of his estate, although it was already revealed that he was indeed their father.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Parsons, Anne (1972-12-30). "Lastman itemizes millions: Mayors in Metro disclose holdings". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). pp. 1, 2. "All Metro Toronto municipal politicians elected on 4 December 1972 took office on 1 January 1973." 
  2. ^ The City of North York was amalgamated with the 5 other municipalities of Metro Toronto to form the city of Toronto on January 1, 1998.
  3. ^ Lewis, James S. (1975-09-19). "Lastman says he lost because he is too popular". The Toronto Star. p. A17. 
  4. ^ Myers, Jennifer (February–March 1996). "Bad Boy makes good". Profit Magazine. ISSN 1183-1324. Archived from the original on 2014-03-08. Retrieved 2014-03-08. 
  5. ^ Cabden, Michael (1972-12-05). "Lastman sweeps North York". The Toronto Star. pp. 1, 11. 
  6. ^ Honderich, John (2011-08-23). "Honderich: The evolution of Jack". The Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2014-03-08. 
  7. ^ Mansbridge, Peter; Adrienne Arsenault (1999-01-13). "Toronto calls in troops to fight massive snowstorm". CBC News (Toronto). Archived from the original on 2014-03-08. Retrieved 2014-03-08. 
  8. ^ Barnes, Alan (1999-01-16). 'World class wimps' receive little sympathy, The Toronto Star, p. A22.
  9. ^ CBC News Staff (2008). "Mel Lastman: Selling himself to a city". CBC News (Toronto). Archived from the original on 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2014-03-08. 
  10. ^ Tambar, Jaspreet (2009-01-11). "10 Years later, Mel Lastman proud he called in army". The Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2014-03-08. Retrieved 2014-03-08. 
  11. ^ James Rusk, "Lastman apologizes for cannibal joke on eve of Kenya trip", Globe and Mail, p. A1, 21 June 2001.
  12. ^ James Rusk, "Lastman 'didn't know' Hells Angels sell drugs", Globe and Mail, p. A1, A8, 15 January 2002.
  13. ^ "SARS according to Mayor Mel". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). 26 April 2003. Archived from the original on Sep 17, 2004. 
  14. ^ Kerry Gillespie. City service cuts stupid, Lastman says. Toronto Star. 14 August 2007. [1]
  15. ^ Timothy Appleby, "The mayor goes ballistic: Death threat against report has Lastman in hot water", Globe and Mail, p. A1, A3, 13 May 1999.
  16. ^ MacDonald, Anne-Marie (2003-11-03). "The Making of Mel: The Life and Times of Mel Lastman". CBC News. Archived from the original on 2005-04-18. 
  17. ^ Lisa Priest, "Lastman 'mortified': Facing lawsuit, mayor reveals affair but doesn't admit paternity", Globe and Mail, p. A1, A19, 1 December 2000.

External links[edit]