Mary T. Hynes, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti has his sights on you. You are on his list of “repeat deputers.” That rhymes with “repeat polluters,” which is what he thinks you are — someone who exercises her democratic duties far too much. He considers it a list of shame. You should be proud to be on it. Let me explain.
In the precious days before the guillotine blade was scheduled to fall on homeless shelters and swimming pools, Mammoliti’s staff were sharpening their blades for more targets in the clerks’ office. They were cross-referencing lists, searching for the “professional protesters” Mammoliti despises — the “usual suspects” who, he says, have clogged the budget process, trying to force their marginal left-wing views on the exhausted, hard-working city. Most are paid to be there, he often says. The rest are welfare bums, out to protect their handouts.
It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to provide the proof. So, after years of complaining, Mammoliti sent his executive assistant, Anthony Di Matteo, out to count. The job took more than 20 hours.
Here’s what Di Matteo found: since council began to review its budget last summer, 348 citizens schlepped down to city hall and waited in an airless committee room for the better part of a day to speak to councillors for their three paltry minutes.
Of those, a mere 40 were “repeat deputers.” Half of them spoke twice. One spoke seven times.
Now, I am not an accountant. But my calculations show 40 out of 348 is 11 per cent. And 11 per cent is a long, lonely way from a majority.
At this point, you would think Mammoliti would bury the evidence and start meeting with his outraged constituents. Instead, he typed up a memo and delivered it to all 43 of his fellow councillors proudly announcing his findings. He should have titled it: “I’ve been wrong all these years, and I’m a jerk.”
Instead, he trumpeted his “factual information.” “The fact that so many of these individuals have come more than twice to depute undermines that they are the so-called voice of Toronto,” Mammoliti wrote.
Vilifying activists has become a national sport in this country. The federal government considers them “radical” and “foreign-funded.” But anyone who has ever sat through an interminable committee meeting at city hall knows they are brave, thoughtful and incredibly patient idealists.
Even when their opinions repulse me, I admire them. They got off the couch to participate in our city’s future. They are democracy in action. Some come representing their unions or boards or lobby groups, and so they should. I’m glad we still have employers in this city who believe civic action is worth paying for. But Mammoliti’s own research reveals they are the minority.
Most deputants represent only one special interest — their own.
Take Mary T. Hynes. Remember her? She’s the white-haired senior from North York who arrived to city hall this past summer with a bottle of water, a granola bar and “some modest proposals.”
She told councillors not to stop at one library branch but to cut the entire system. “As you can see from the thousands of petitions and emails complaining about proposed service cuts, far too many people use the library to improve literacy and to learn about government and politics,” she said to guffaws. “You would save millions.”
That was her fourth trip to city hall that week. Mammoliti’s list marks her as a five-time deputer.
“Oh, he’s missed a couple,” she says. “I’ve come to six committees plus one sub-committee. I didn’t say the same thing twice.”
Hynes talked about community centres at the recreation committee, the tree canopy at the parks committee, tower renewal at the planning committee.
“It turns out they don’t cover tower renewal, but I didn’t know that,” she says.
Hynes is a retired special education teacher who, until last month, worked substitute jobs. She is the chair of theOlder Women’s Network, a volunteer advocacy group for women over 55. She takes courses on urban development at the University of Toronto “to keep my brain going.” And, she has run three times as a NDP candidate in recent years.
But, despite her interest in politics, she had only ever deputed to city councillors once before, raising concerns two years ago about a proposed condominium near her home at Don Mills and Hwy. 401.
“City politics had not been on my radar until this KPMG report came out,” says Hynes, 68. “I was quite concerned. I thought the city was being torn down.”
It took her an hour to get to city hall each time — a bus and two subway rides. And most times, she was stuck there for a few hours — watching a presentation of the KPMG report again and listening first to councillors’ questions.
“I was terrified the first few times I spoke, I must admit,” she says. The experience hooked her on city politics. She’s now running to be a school trustee in the Ward 17 by-election.
“I learned that people can make a difference, if they struggle long and hard and respectfully,” she says. “If people hadn’t come down to city hall, what would have happened?”
Long live repeat deputers, I say. We need as many Mary T. Hynes in this city as we can get —– people with passion, patience and a commitment to fighting for the larger good. She wasn’t paid for her days spent at city hall, Mr. Mammoliti. You were.
What about the other 89 per cent who deputed only once? “Even they are repeat professional deputers,” Mammoliti responds. “They’re here all the time on every issue.”
That didn’t show up in the math, but who trusts “factual information” anyway?
By Catherine Porter Columnist The Star Wed Jan 18 2012
Catherine Porter’s column usually appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org