After weeks of careful consideration, councilor Michael Thompson has opted not to enter the Toronto mayoral race. He said the timing is not right because of family commitments.
“I had assembled a team, we had looked at the resources and the issues, put together a platform and were basically gauging it on my family situation,” Thompson, who has a wife and three children, told Share. “It was less about me and more about them. The time required for the mayoralty is more than simply being a councilor which is time consuming. At this particular point in time, I will take a pass.”
Several candidates, including former Deputy Premier George Smitherman and Liberal party national director Rocco Rossi have lined up to replace outgoing Mayor David Miller. Former provincial Conservative party leader, John Tory, is also expected to take another at for the job. He was defeated by Miller in 2003.
Thompson, the councilor for Scarborough Centre since 2003, said he has not made up his mind which candidate he will support.
“I don’t know who I will support because I have not made that decision,” he said. “I have known John and George for a long time. John has some skill sets that are absolutely amazing and can be very beneficial to this city as does George. I have not heard about their platforms and that is why I have not stuck my coat hanger on either of them.”
Citing personal reasons, including wanting to spend more quality time with his family, Miller announced last September he would not seek a third-term as mayor. He served two terms on the new City of Toronto council before becoming mayor in November 2003, during the same civic election in which Thompson was elected a councilor.
Thompson hopes his working relationship with the next mayor will be more cordial than his association with Miller who he accused of not showing leadership. They never saw eye to eye on many issues, prompting Thompson to describe their relationship as challenging.
“I have great respect for David as a person, but our political philosophies are quite different,” said Thompson. “Our management styles and approaches to managing the affairs of the city are quite different. I am more of a guy that is more collegial in working through and working with people. David is more of a guy that works by himself based on his principles and what he believes and nobody else appears to matter. That’s what I took from my relationship with him.
“I certainly had intended and had hoped that we would work together in the best interest of this city, but it was shot down fairly soon after I got elected when I came forward with a proposal to deal with crime and how also to address it on the preventative side…When I reached out to David with my proposal that was submitted to him and all the councilors, he wasn’t interested because, as I recall, crime was not part of his mandate as he mentioned to me.
“We had serious exchanges and that sort of led me to realize that in order to effect changes here, I needed to be an independent guy…My politics have always come out as being right wing. My politics is pragmatic. I came up through a liberal environment. I am not a card-carrying liberal or conservative, but I have views because I come from a business background where you look at how to manage money, not because you simply think that it is the only thing to do, but it is the effective thing to do because managing the dollars will actually help you to grow the business. I bring some of those traits to the city. I don’t apologize for that if it seems to some to be conservative. That’s fine.”
Thompson who, at age 13, recognized that politics was his calling, has been an outspoken community safety advocate.
Four months after becoming a councilor, Thompson threw his support behind a broad-based community group that emerged with a coordinated and comprehensive approach to address the deadly gun violence in the city.
“With every drop of energy and blood in my soul, I will not allow the situation to continue,” an emotional Thompson, fighting back tears, said at the meeting at Tropicana Community Services Organization.”
During the interview with this newspaper, Thompson pulled out photos from his office desk drawer of several murdered young Black men, including Segun Farquharson and Ruddin Greaves.
“The first time I met Julia Farquharson, she showed me a picture of her son,” he said, pointing to the young man dressed in hockey gear. “The next time I saw her, she presented me with this photo (Segun lying in a coffin after being fatally gunned down in May 2001).
Thompson’s strong and decisive advocacy for public safety during a period of increased and senseless gun violence in the city led to the development of a city-wide community safety plan, a GTA-wide police task force on guns and gangs, an increase in the number of street patrol police officers and a new young offender program designed to divert young people to jobs instead of jail.
It also led him to boldly suggest, in the middle of the National Black Police Association’s annual conference in this city four years ago, that Toronto police should be allowed to “target” young Black men at random as part of a crackdown on guns and violence.
Thompson defended the explosive and controversial comments.
“One of the things you learn in terms of being a leader is that leadership is not about being popular,” he said. “It is about having and assessing information, looking at a problem and trying to identify ways to address it…I sat in this office with a number of mothers whose sons were victims of gun violence, trying to figure ways and means to address the problem.
“It appeared to me that people were not paying attention to the problem of guns and violence and I needed a way to jar them,” he said. “I was trying to reach out to people without much success, so I had to find a way to make it the city’s responsibility. I thought it was a gamble that was worth taking and I took it.”
Born in Jamaica, Thompson graduated from Ionview Public School, Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate and Concordia University where he received an Economics degree. Prior to entering politics, he worked in the financial services industry and later established a business services firm.
The tireless community worker spearheaded the Wexford Heights Business Improvement Area and the popular Taste of Lawrence Avenue East summer festival, launched the Scarborough Rocks community image building campaign and hosts regular community events and town hall meetings. As chair of the Scarborough Community Council in 2006, he spearheaded the campaign to create the first ever Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) strategy for Scarborough that promises to significantly expand and enhance public transit services for all Scarborough residents.
Thompson is the only Black councilor on the 44-member council.
“Being the only Black is a huge challenge and I have to remind people that I was not sent there because of my skin colour,” he said. “People look at me as you are the only one and you are the guy to help us. It’s daunting because there are people who look like me that are also working against me. I see that time and time again.”
Re-elected with the highest number of votes and the highest margin of victory in the last municipal elections, Thompson said he will run again in the next elections on October 25, 2010.