After Mel Lastman’s funeral on Monday, Toronto already seems like a quieter place. The city has produced its fair share of political figures, but no one spoke about the city with the same shameless street vendor energy as Megacity Mouth, the first mayor of the merged city of Toronto.

Mayor Mel embodied the city’s dynamic combination of global ambition and provincial insecurity during the pivotal moment in civic history when he took office. He could be a bit of a clown, entertaining, embarrassing, exuberantly expressing his love for the city. The voters were equally exuberant and showed it by loving him.

He grew up as a hedgehog kid from Kensington Market Street. He became a furniture salesman driving a Rolls-Royce. Then he was the talk-first-think-after politician who ruled North York and later the entire city, as the sometimes ridiculous face of the modern Family Compact, before retiring from public life in 2003. He died on Saturday at age 88. . he left a city very different from that of his childhood, a city that was greatly remodeled by his years in civic office.

Lastman rose to prominence in a Toronto whose identity was defined in part by retail personalities: Eatons, the Upper Canada establishment, the brash and honest Ed Mirvish and Sam “The Record Man” Sniderman. Bushy “Bad Boy” Mel Lastman, purveyor of cliche to cheese ball vendors, was a perfect fit amongst the twinkling lights of the new crowd.

The term “world class” seemed like an obsession during his years in office, one-piece with a city where the world’s largest bookstore and world’s largest jeans store and world’s tallest freestanding structure were erected and the world’s first fully retractable roof. milestones. A city sometimes desperately trying to assert its place in the world in superlative terms, and Lastman was a man who spoke that language fluently and joyfully.

I first became aware of him as a child in Toronto, and he was the apparent mayor for life of the then city of North York, when he threatened to tempt the Toronto Maple Leafs into moving to his suburb. or to mount a North York Olympic bid to compete with Toronto. It looked like a government that glorified itself as a publicity stunt. I mean, he named North York civic plaza after him while he was still in office.

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But he was manifesting his ambitions for his suburb: Mel Lastman Square today sits in the middle of a high-rise commercial and condo neighborhood that emerged from the darkness of a shopping mall under his leadership; It is served by a subway line on Sheppard Avenue that he, against all odds and sense of transit planning, coaxed into existence.

It remade the identity of North York and, in that and many other ways, it also reshaped that of Toronto. The glass and steel condo walls that now define the character of downtown Toronto first began to emerge on what were vast empty railroad lands during Lastman’s time as mayor. Lastman’s campaign promises not to raise property taxes set the stingy bet for Toronto’s next generation of politicians. And his electoral coalition of the suburbs against the city and the angry intimidations of the provincial government would define the political rhetoric of the city since then.

He was beginning to write about the city and its politics at the time while Lastman was mayor, and his “Sideshow Mel” temperament and the controversies he sparked often garnered more headlines than anything else. Proudly calling on the army to deal with a blizzard, saluting Hells Angels, worrying about being boiled alive by “natives” on a trip to Africa, loudly cursing journalists and city council members, proclaiming their ignorance of the World Health Organization in the midst of the SARS epidemic, holding a press conference to announce that he had a whole secret family suing him for child support, while continuing to act as a commercial television spokesperson for his family business while served as mayor … it was a lot. All of this happened while, according to an investigation, lobbyists were taking city staff and councilors to the US to watch hockey games and carrying bags full of cash into the City Hall parking lot for evening gatherings.

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After the chaotic mayoralty fueled by the Rob Ford drug scandal and the narcissistic authoritarianism of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, perhaps this sounds a bit strange. But at the time it all seemed quite exhausting. And quite worrying.

Enough so you can trace the history of the city in the dominoes that fell in reaction: David Miller’s polished new broom emerging in response to Lastman’s clownshows and corruption; Rob Ford’s stingy populism rises in reaction to Miller’s perceived elitism and city-building; John Tory’s managerial smoothness emerges as a respite from Ford’s chaos. The Toronto merger story started from the tone set by Lastman.

And what most will remember is its tone: constantly and boastfully proclaiming Toronto the “greatest city in the world.” Using his salesman instinct for hype to hide the insecurity of a city suffering from post-merger growing pains and still clinging to an identity.

I won’t be the only one to think that a defining happy image of his mayoralty was his appearance in the 1998 Pride Parade. By all accounts reluctant to participate, Lastman had never attended as mayor of North York. But he thought it was a must to be in the parade as the new mayor of the entire new city of Toronto. When he joined a fire department float and participated in water fights with the crowd, he seemed to be having the time of his life.

The city was a rapidly changing place during Lastman’s years as mayor. Sometimes he was shaping that change, sometimes he grudgingly accepted it. But it was certainly always the loudest voice proclaiming pride in what Toronto was and what it was becoming. And in general, he always seemed to have fun doing it.

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