Josh Matlow has a way of staying in the news. On Sunday, the rookie councillor who already pens a weekly column for the Toronto Star and is a frequent guest on talk radio begins a new gig hosting a show of his own on Newstalk 1010.
“I love the experience” of being on the radio, Matlow said. “It’s a great opportunity to discuss the issues and hear back from callers.”
Each week on the show, called the City, Matlow will play host to two of his fellow councillors. He says he’s hoping to eventually get all 44 members of council on the air.
On the debut episode Matlow will welcome two councillors who land on polar opposites of the political spectrum in Rob Ford’s lieutenant Giorgio Mammoliti and David Miller’s former budget chief Shelley Carroll.
In many ways Matlow, councillor for Ward 22 St. Paul’s, is the obvious choice to mediate between opponents like Mammoliti and Carroll. Not only does the 35-year-old have a background in media (he used to write for NOW, among other publications) his political strategy could be defined as one of fanatical civility. While most councillors use their speaking time at meetings to push their opinion about the issue at hand, Matlow frequently uses his to talk about the virtues of finding compromise and considering all possible viewpoints.
“I find that in the council chambers, we often get into polarizing debates or five minute rants of rhetoric. There isn’t a lot of active listening,” he said. The radio show “is an opportunity to have councillors to sit in a room and have more of a conversation than a debate.”
As far as political strategies go, you might think Matlow’s would be among the least objectionable. But he does have his critics who accuse him of not taking a stand on important issues. His council speeches, which are often a variation on the theme of “let’s all get along,” are perfect fodder for satire.
A fake and frequently amusing Twitter account, @NotJoshMatlow, is a scathing take on his avowed centrism.
Matlow says those who deride him haven’t been paying attention to his work at City Hall.
“Do those few individuals on Twitter actually know my record? Have they ever asked me a question?” he said. “If you actually look through my record, I am very clear on specific issues. But I don’t find it helpful, when I disagree with the mayor, to simply attack his character.”
Matlow cites his criticism of the mayor ‘s decision not to attend a single Pride event and his opposition to the Sheppard subway plan as instances in which he’s taken a stand.
And while some might say that holding a job in the media while sitting on council is a conflict of interest, Matlow sees his gig at Newstalk (which is non-paying) as an extension of his council duties because it will allow him to interact with citizens.
It will also keep him in the media, a situation desirable for any politician.
Given the divisive climate at City Hall these days, the councillors who stop by his show will likely end up shouting at each other, but they may want to be particularly polite to Matlow. He is one of the councillors in the so-called “mushy middle,” a non-aligned minority on council who Ford will need to win over to push through motions like the upcoming budget vote.
So far, Ford has already received Matlow’s endorsement on a number of important votes. In December he voted for the mayor’s plan to scrap the vehicle registration tax, a move that cost the city $64 million. He also voted with Ford in June to sell 22 Toronto Community Housing Corporation units. Critics worry the sale has laid the groundwork for a massive sell off of city-owned housing that needy Torontonians depend on.
So far Matlow’s not thrilled with the budget process, which has seen the mayor suggest deep cuts to city services. But of course on the other hand, he can see where Ford is coming from.
“Just to kind of propose all those cuts and scare so many people, I thought was awful, it didn’t contribute to a thoughtful conversation in this city,” he said. “That being said, we all recognize that Toronto’s been saddled with a structural deficit that needs to be dealt with. That’s why I believe we need to work together on it.”
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