Veteran councillor bows out after 31 years at city hall
(Written for Town Crier Sept.16)
Councillor Howard Moscoe hasn’t shied away from controversy, humour or creative ways to achieve change in his 31 years as a politician.
“I found in politics humour is a significant tool,” he said from his city hall office Sept. 16. “Humour is a way of focusing ideas. You also have to enjoy this job and have fun.”
But all good things must come to and end so he’s not seeking re-election.
“It’s not that I haven’t loved the job. And I still have as much excitement about doing it as I used to have but it seems to be the perfect time to move on,” said the Ward 15 rep.
Moscoe has never lost a city election since he was first voted in, in 1978. About two thirds of his career was served under former mayor Mel Lastman both in the old city of North York and then the amalgamated City of Toronto.
In fact one of his stand out moments was after Lastman got hair plugs and auctioned off his old toupee to charity. Moscoe bought the toupee and used it to dust his seat in North York council chambers.
It’s vintage Moscoe.
“I am the proud owner of Mel Lastman’s toupee. It is true. I was offered $600 for the toupee but I wouldn’t part with it,” he laughs. “I have pictures of myself in the Toronto Sun holding it up and spraying it with bug spray.”
And while he sometimes describes himself as shy, he admits he has a mischievous side.
But it’s not just having fun in silly ways. He’s also staged attention-getting events or said outrageous things to draw attention to an issue, he said.
“I think I have a good sense of humour but it’s used to achieve objectives. Sometimes humour is the only tool that will work,” he said.
Moscoe said he takes a page from Saul Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals. “That was my bible in the early days,” he recalls.
“I spent most of my career in opposition if you can look at it that way. I think the most productive years of my career have been in the last 5-6 years,” he said.
One of the initiatives he highlights is the recently-approved 20-year plan to revitalize Lawrence Heights and, as he sees it, correct planning mistakes from the past.
Helping people is a big motivator for him as a politician and at the city level you have the power to do that quite directly.
“I try very hard to … never forget there are a lot of people in this world who struggle to get by. So I have been kind of a missionary trying to make life better for ordinary people like me,” said Moscoe, who has run unsuccessful for the provincial NDP.
“I get incensed by little things that bother people and me like retail stores that refuse to let customer use their washrooms. I have a strong sense of what’s right and wrong,” he said. “Part of it was given to me by my father. We used to fight everyday. He trained me for politics.”
Moscoe knows he’s ruffled a few feathers over the years fighting for what he thought was right.
“I have taken a lot of tough stands on issues. I don’t apologize one iota for that,” he said. “There are some members of this council, who assume their office and warm their seat. And they keep getting re-elected because they don’t annoy anyone.”
That’s not his style.
“You can set out to do something and do it and makes something bad, better.”
Moscoe was an art, history and geography teacher for more than three decades some of that time overlapped with his 31 years as a politician.
“I taught art for 35 years. I find this (job) far more creative because you are not only creating for yourself but creating for other people,” said the Eglinton-Lawrence councillor.
Moscoe fought for an artist to be on the design committee of the Humber River Pedestrian Bridge that has a Thunderbird motif. Later having an artist on design committees for public projects in North York became the norm.
He also fought hard to have skylights in at Downsview subway station when it was built rather than a more dull looking station. And it’s not always more expensive to be creative, but it does add flare, he argues.
One of the reasons Moscoe was successful in many of his initiatives is he read the committee and council agendas, prepared motions in advance, knew the issues and got colleagues on side.
“If you want to succeed in politics, you have to work hard.”
Moscoe has no plans to run for provincial office, has some offers for his next job, but is staying quiet for now.