Wanna know the scoop about Glen Murray?
Take it from a Winnipegger: The man who wants to replace George Smitherman as MPP for Toronto-Centre, the riding that includes the country’s biggest gay village, is a charismatic, commitment-phobic, power-hungry, eager-to-please crybaby who can’t be trusted.
But he deserves every vote he gets.
I’ve been following Murray’s unlikely political career ever since he was elected to Winnipeg city council in 1989, as one of the first openly gay politicians in Canada. Back then, Murray was the 32-year-old co-founder of the city’s pioneering AIDS clinic, handing out condoms and safe-sex info at clubs, coffee shops and bathhouses.
As an NDP city councillor, Murray fought passionately, often to the point of tears, for official recognition of Pride and Pink Triangle Day events. He adopted a teenaged street kid and starred in a National Film Board documentary about their relationship.
In 1998, I moved into a house down the street from Murray, and a few months later, he was elected mayor. When I went to his inauguration with my lesbian roommate, he proudly showed off his big, shiny chain of office and we swooned, “That’s our mayor!” To which he responded, “Now I just need earrings to match!”
But over the next few years, our love affair with Murray waned. He dumped his ties to the NDP, cozied up to the local business community and bulldozed the city’s preeminent heritage building to make way for a dreary hockey arena.
In 2004, halfway through his second term, Murray joined the Liberal Party, ditched out of his job and made a kamikaze run for a federal seat in Winnipeg’s suburbs — all because then-prime minister Paul Martin wined and dined him at 24 Sussex Dr and promised him a low-level cabinet position if he won. Murray’s ambitious plans for a city consumption tax, fairer municipal funding and a long-awaited rapid transit system died the minute his political career crashed and burned at the hands of a neophyte Conservative candidate.
Despite my bitterness at Murray’s hasty and horribly-timed departure, as well as the fact that he flew to Toronto midway through the campaign to smear Jack Layton and Olivia Chow in their home ridings, I can’t help but admit that — on the whole — he was a fantastic mayor. He worked practically round-the-clock to inject new life into our downtown waterfront, invest heavily in the arts community and build a picture-perfect bridge over the Red River. He even managed to hold the line on property taxes while maintaining great relations with city unions.
Most importantly, though, Murray succeeded in inspiring Winnipeggers to think of our city as world-class. He was also a positive role model for young queers. After a local newspaper filed a Freedom of Information request for Murray’s emails, it was revealed that gay and lesbian young people from across North America had written to him for advice — and received long, thoughtful responses.
That was one of Murray’s greatest strengths as mayor — accessibility. He travelled everywhere in the city and tried to know everyone. When I needed to get my passport signed by a professional, I realized there was someone I knew better than any dentist or lawyer who could do the trick — my mayor. So I called Murray’s office and the secretary told me to come on down.
I have a lot of good things to report about Glen Murray, but I have to end this column with a warning to the voters of Toronto-Centre: Don’t believe that he won’t dump you, too, if a hotter offer comes along. After Murray left Winnipeg, he landed a position with Toronto consulting firm Navigator for a couple of years, but quit so he could take charge of the Canadian Urban Institute. Now, less than two years into that job, he’s hoping to become an MPP.
Yet he still considers himself a Winnipegger, and says he’ll return one day to run for MP again. At least that’s what he told me a few months ago, when I interviewed him at a Winnipeg coffee shop. I have no doubt that Murray sincerely wants to serve the people — he’s just always keeping his options open about which people to serve.