Team Matlow from left to right- Blake Webb, Katharine Hancock and Andrew Athanasiu
While Councillor Josh Matlow is the public face of Ward 22 at city hall, his success in his relatively new role will hinge largely on the support staff who often serve as a first point of contact for constituents.
Matlow’s team, which consists of executive assistant Andrew Athanasiu and constituency assistants Katharine Hancock and Blake Webb, have been working alongside the councillor, both helping him get up to speed on the ward and, in Hancock and Athanasiu’s cases, getting up to speed themselves.
The trio, along with part-time office employee Astrid-Maria Ciarallo, know the community first-hand.
All three have lived there, and Webb has worked there, taking over Chris Sellors’ executive assistant role in former councillor Michael Walker’s office while Sellors ran against Matlow for council.
Most of the team are neophytes in municipal politics.
They say, however, that their personal investment in the ward, coupled with the knowledge that people don’t tend to call their councillor for trivial matters, will ensure an effective office.
Athanasiu and Matlow have a history of working well together.
The two met more than a decade ago while Matlow was director of Earthroots, pulling together to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Athanasiu has since worked in provincial politics, serving as an assistant to Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti.
Athanasiu grew up in Ward 22, attending Hodgson Public School and North Toronto Collegiate Institute before studying planning and urban geography in university.
“I’ve always had a passion for the city and the neighbourhood I grew up in and when (Matlow) told me about the opportunity to work on his campaign early on, I jumped at the chance,” he said.
While the three full-time assistants will share the workload equitably, Athanasiu will take point on legislative items, from preparing the councillor for council and committee meetings and working with stakeholder groups among his many responsibilities.
He agrees with Matlow’s approach to city and community building.
“We just need more mature, thoughtful voices and to be able to sit down and listen to all sides without name-calling,” he said.
Hancock has the least political experience among Matlow’s team, but earned the councillor’s respect as a tireless advocate for Eglinton Public School while Matlow was the local school board trustee.
The St. Paul’s resident said she had given little thought about working in politics until Matlow approached her.
“I would have called myself not very political, but when Josh mentioned this opening, I thought it was a great opportunity,” she said.
Among her victories as a parent-activist for Eglinton P.S., Hancock was instrumental in getting a new playground installed at the school.
She has also been active at various committee of adjustment meetings, fighting developers who have sought to build up the low-rise neighbourhood she calls home.
“I live beside a lot of bungalows and there are always people trying to build bigger homes there, so I’ve gotten to know a lot about the bylaws,” she said.
Hancock said she enjoys working with people, which will help her in her role as a liaison between residents and the councillor, and in helping direct constituents as to where to go to get specific help from a city department.
Her lack of experience in the political sphere has not hindered her in that capacity, and she said the supports in place have helped her hit the ground running.
“The other (city hall) staff have been incredibly helpful and they have a councillor support person who’s been really supportive,” she said.
In the early days after Matlow took office, Webb became the go-to person for city issues, a natural fit given his previous experience both inside the ward and out.
In addition to working under Walker, he has worked alongside Ward 28 Councillor Pam McConnell and has served in the offices of George Smitherman and Bob Rae.
He said the new faces in the councillor’s office – including Matlow – have added to his excitement at being part of the team.
“There’s a different energy now, and it’s exciting being here with people who are doing this for the first time and not taking anything for granted,” he said.
Both Hancock and Athanasiu credited Webb for helping bring them up to speed on some of the behind-the-scenes nuances within a councillor’s office, but noted their more veteran colleague has been quick to allow them to learn in their own ways.
Webb will handle many of the residents’ calls regarding what the office calls “hard issues” – items ranging from committee meetings to parking and snow removal complaints.
While all three assistants have specialties within the office, however, all of them are more than willing to pitch in where needed.
“We’re not going to get dug in on one issue,” he said. “
There’s a lot to work with and we all want to be able to help out with whatever (constituents) need.”
They will all take part in larger decisions, sharing the feedback they have heard from local residents, but they will also all take on leadership roles when it comes to specific files and issues within the ward as those issues arise.
Joining the ranks of city hall has been a crash course for both Hancock and Athanasiu – “it’s been like jumping in the deep end, but it’s been fun,” Hancock said – but all three assistants are eager to continue the hard work team Matlow put in pounding the pavement before the election.
“We just spent six months knocking on everyone’s door and talking about issues and those are the same issues we’re dealing with now,” Athanasiu said.
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