When Michael Feldman passed away on May 10, at the age of 95, he left behind a legacy of kindness, integrity and accomplishment.
As the elected representative who followed Mike as the Toronto city councillor for York Centre, I became heir to a tradition of community building ensuring that the residents of the area received new investments, excellent services and personal and property safety. I also had to continue the tradition of being a loyal and trusted voice for the Jewish community at city hall. I had big shoes to fill and carving out my own future was no easy task.
Politicians are quickly forgotten when they leave office. Not Mike. When Mike’s name came up it triggered praise, compliments, and respect. And the respect was as steady as Mike was: over 30 years running a business; 18 years as a city councillor; and married to Sue for 73 years.
He was a person of ideas. As an entrepreneur in the 1950s, Mike started Teela Data Market Surveys, which was the first version of today’s real estate Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
Mike knew the value of community investments. He founded the Antibes Community Centre by negotiating with a local condo board, installed a mural at Bathurst and Wilson, (which he fought the Ministry of Transportation for) and created Banting Park.
He took on noble causes long before they were trendy or popular. He fought for affordable and supportive housing for low-income families, seniors, and the physically and mentally challenged. He became a transformational supporter of Reena. During his term as chair of the Metro Housing Development Corporation, the organization added 20,000 affordable units to their existing portfolio.
Mike always seemed to be above the rancour, getting the job done with a certain class and humour that we miss today. When I was a school board trustee, he always took my calls and made time to get together, guiding me away from the third rail of local politics. But I didn’t always take his advice. Forever the fiscal conservative, he said a community office cost too much money. I rented space anyway.
After I arrived at city hall in 2010, Mike and I would go to lunch to discuss the issues of the day. These get-togethers took on new meaning when my father passed away in 2013 and Mike became a source of thoughtful counsel.
When we sat down it seemed the whole restaurant knew him and liked him. My parents were friends with Mike and Sue, and it only seemed fitting that I too developed a friendship with them.
I actually wanted to run for Toronto city council in 2006. But I attended a breakfast event at Beth Emeth Synagogue and Mike was acknowledged by the host. The roar of the audience sent a message to me that this was not my time, and the beloved local councillor had a lot more gas in the engine. I had to sit tight and listen and learn. After all, the mentor was still building a city and making sure Toronto remained a place of high purpose.
In the end, the last few messages I left for Mike went unanswered. When I heard the news that he had passed, the news shook all who knew him. Toronto city council was in session and the passing of a pillar from a former era caused pause and reflection reminding us of the truism, “That God’s work in this world must truly be our own.”
James Pasternak is the City of Toronto councillor for York Centre.