By TRISTAN CARTER
October 27, 2011
It’s a rainy afternoon at city hall and Josh Matlow is wrapping up a staff meeting. A whiteboard in his office overlooking Bay Street is covered by more than 50 handwritten To Do notes, including reminders to update his website and obtain some new street signs for a neighbourhood in his St. Paul’s ward.
A circled note in the corner of the whiteboard could be Matlow’s motto: “The small things are the big things.”
It’s the mark of an energetic newbie councillor who is still learning to juggle the demands of city hall with the needs of his constituency.
Matlow, along with a swath of council reps, is set to mark his first year at city hall, a place he says is never short on intrigue.
Matlow has been called a rising media — and social media — star on this council.
Other councillors, however, also seem to appreciate his work.
“He’s been very dynamic, very active, and he’s out there in his community,” says city politics veteran Joe Mihevc. “He’s my riding mate, he’s got the other side of St. Clair, so I enjoy working with him.”
Views may vary on Matlow, but he is clear that his role is one he defined before announcing his intention to seek a council seat.
A self-proclaimed member of the centrist clan on council, Matlow offers a vote that cannot be swayed simply by political ideology, left or right, he says.
“I think there’s a misunderstanding by a few that when you’re a political centrist at city hall that you’re sitting on some proverbial fence and that’s not the reality,” he says.
“I will always take a position on every item. I just won’t consistently base my decision on any one ideology.”
It may seem like a difficult balance to strike, given the extreme political realities of council’s 45 members — some of whom, according to Matlow, base every vote on which council friend or foe has proposed the motion.
The reality of a council headed by a rogue mayor has been one surprise for Matlow, a former school trustee whose vote this time last year affected only public school board decisions.
“The biggest surprise for me is how much influence the mayor’s office has over the agenda at city hall,” Matlow says. “And it’s ironic that it’s the left-wing and the Millerites themselves that created the stronger mayor system that they’re now subject to.
“Ford has taken advantage of the very house that Miller built.”
It’s a house that as a centrist politician, Matlow hasn’t really been invited into. He is not a member of Ford’s executive committee, nor is he in the mayor’s inner circle.
But Matlow has managed to carve out his own niche of influence: The 35-year-old understands and harnesses the power of the media. He spreads his message and keeps up-to-date via Twitter and Facebook. And he engages listeners via The City with Josh Matlow, his Sunday afternoon municipal politics radio show on Newstalk Radio 1010.
Matlow insists he does not use the show to boost his own ward interests, but to give guests, mostly councillors on opposite sides of the political spectrum, an opportunity to engage the electorate.
Though he’s proud of his efforts this past year, Matlow regrets voting in favour of abolishing the vehicle registration tax.
“I think it was done too hastily,” he said. “I believe there should have been a stronger argument from the city manager as to how it would impact the 2012 budget.”
Though he’s been vocal in his questioning of Ford’s leadership, Matlow says he agrees with many of the mayor’s initiatives, including a review of Toronto services.
“What I strongly disagree with is the method he’s gone about implementing those ideas,” he said. “I would have liked to see a more thoughtful and mature process.”
Matlow says his first priority is his community. At least once a week he walks a portion of the ward and takes notes on local issues such as a tree branch blocking a stop sign, or a broken sidewalk.
“I’m just constantly learning how I can do my job better,” he says.
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