Showing them the ropes

[attach]5897[/attach]Michelle Maldonado’s political interests started close to home.

The York University grad, who has been involved with the co-op housing movement from an early age, has partnered up with Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette as part of a mentorship program that sees young women pair up with female councillors who show them the ropes and encourage them to get involved in municipal politics.

Maldonado said growing up in co-operative housing in the Bloor West area made her realize the power of collaboration.

“Quite early on I realized how different it was,” she said. “You’re a community, not just a bunch of tenants living in an apartment paying to a landlord … that really inspired me.”

Maldonado currently sits on the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada’s Toronto and national boards of directors. She also works full-time as a co-op housing property manager.

She said she appreciates co-ops because every member has an equal voice, much like city council.

“Just the idea of having more representation is something I’m familiar with and think is very important,” she said.

The Swansea Village resident said initially wanted to be with Ward 28’s Pam McConnell due to her advocacy in the affordable housing sector.

But she’s pleased she’s been paired with someone who can teach her a thing or two about the surrounding community.

“Even though I grew up in Bloor West Village, I’ve been involved with a lot of things that are more broad,” said Maldonado. “So it was nice to be paired up with someone who can really show me what’s going on in Bloor West Village.”

Doucette hailed the program as a positive initiative because she believes more women need to enter politics.

“We think differently than men,” she said. “We come at things from a different angle, which is good.

“With a nice mixture of men and women, we’ll come at issues from more angles and it will help us find the right answer,” she said.

So far, Doucette hasn’t been able to spend much time with the protégées, but she took Maldonado to a community consultation meeting. Doucette said Maldonado might have tempered the meeting somewhat.

“This is going to sound awful but I think people were better behaved (than usual),” Doucette said with a lighthearted laugh. “Sometimes community consultations can get a little bit rowdy.”

Doucette has made it her mandate to show the protégées the unglamorous side of municipal politics.

“It’s not about going to all these ribbon cuttings and beautiful gala lunches and things,” Doucette said. “That’s the fun part. But there’s also the nitty-gritty of bugging people about why hasn’t this garbage been picked up or this road paved.”

For Maldonado, the biggest surprise was just how busy councillors are.

“It’s been eye-opening on how much of a commitment it really is,” she said. “They have so many meetings that they go to, it really is a full-time job.”

Having said that, she said she’s still hoping to find herself back at city hall, in a slightly different capacity.

“It might have changed my plan in terms of when I’m going to do it, but I haven’t been discouraged.”

Doucette’s other protégée, Ciara Bracken-Roche, was unavailable as of press time.