Feldman to hang up his hat

In one of Toronto’s most storied political lives, leaving city council is just another chapter closed.

Longtime city man Mike Feldman announced in late July that he’s wrapping up his 18-year tenure on council, writing in a letter to his Ward 10 constituents, “It’s time to move on to my next career.”

That next career, the 82-year-old told the Town Crier, will likely take the form of sitting on a few more managerial boards.

The lifelong North Yorker says he loves dealing with the big issues. Organizations have been benefitting from his broad vision for almost a half-century.

“I’ve always worked for the global good of the city. If I can make money for the city, Toronto Performing Arts Centre, the Sony Centre, the parking authority, TEDCO, that’s what I’m interested in. Economic development. And that’s where my strength is.”

Feldman’s first foray into organization building was when he started his own, Teela Data Management, in 1953. He got an idea to publish real estate data in a regular volume and sell it to brokerages.

“When I sent the first publication out it was four o’clock in the morning, took it down to the post office. I had 10 subscribers. I built it from there.”

By 1982 Feldman’s publications were covering 50 cities and employed 500 people. He sold the company that year, but stayed on as
president until 1989.

As for Feldman’s beginnings in public life, the dates are a little fuzzy.

“I was always volunteering all over the place,” he said, adding it includes writing Paul Godfrey’s first political campaign. The former Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto first became a North York alderman in 1964.

It was Godfrey who assigned Feldman to perhaps his most defining post.

“I was first appointed to the Toronto Metropolitan Housing Company in 1973. Paul Godfrey said just come in for three years. I got off it 28 years later,” Feldman said.

As the volunteer head of the city’s social housing arm, Feldman helped construct over 15,000 units of rent-geared-to-income housing.
Later, he was asked to serve on a provincial housing reform committee under Mike Harris, “to try to bring some sense to the agencies
across the province.”

This experience in city building affected Feldman, whose career has always focused on the bigger picture.

“I was president of most things that I became involved with. So much so that on our 40th wedding anniversary my wife bought me cufflinks with gavels on them,” said Feldman.

Wife Sue Feldman’s cufflinks were probably shining brightly when mayor Mel Lastman approached Feldman, then sitting as chairman of the North York Planning Board, and asked him to sit on city council to replace a councillor who’d been asked to step down due to a conflict of interest.

Feldman agreed, sitting the seat for 10 months beginning in 1985.

In 1992, Feldman ran for council in Ward 7 and has won his seat every year since.

While he said he’s proud of the work that’s been accomplished along the way, he leaves council deeply disappointed in the municipal system.

“In my opinion the political system in the city has deteriorated,” he said. “In 1985 … we had an office that was 100 square feet; one chair, one desk. We had one assistant for every four councillors.”

He says the city was well run at that time.

“When I came back in ’92, each of the councillors had their own executive assistant, they had an office that was 400 square feet, fully furnished, a little reception area outside, (and) everybody had a computer. You’d come in in the morning and rub your hands together and say, ‘Who can I interfere with today?’ You had all this extra time and all this extra staff,” said Feldman. “It was no longer an avocation. It became a vocation.”

Feldman also said that the culture of City Hall has also changed drastically over the years.

“In North York we used to sit in council and no matter who’s ward it was, if I didn’t think something was good planning, I would vote against it. We’d have all of our arguments and then we’d go have dinner together, it was nothing personal. What happens now, if it’s in someone else’s ward, most of us don’t even read the damn thing,” he said, adding that he believes the current system amounts to 44 “ward bosses” pitted against each other without a mind for the global good.

Although he’d like to see changes to the city government—including slashing the amount of councillors in half—Feldman remains optimistic about the future, endorsing his longtime executive assistant Nancy Oomen to succeed him as Ward 10 councillor.

“She’s good. She knows the community,” said Feldman.

“She knows the problems of the community and has a rapport with staff.”

About this article:

By: Christopher Reynolds
Posted: Aug 16 2010 1:34 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto