Photo above: Community political organizer, Gwyneth Chapman, second from left, shares a joyous moment with, (L-R): Sygnus Matthew, Joe Halstead, Toronto Mayor-elect, John Tory, and Alonzo Starling. Photo credit: Nigerian Canadian News.
By Lincoln Depradine
Pride Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario – Mayor-elect, John Tory, envisions a future in politics for African-Canadian Gwyneth Chapman, who volunteered on his mayoral campaign team.
“I hope she’ll run for political office one day. She has the heart to do it,’’ Tory told Pride News Magazine in an exclusive interview, on Monday.
“She’s able to reach out and bring people together, not just in the Black community. She’s committed and understands the things that need to be done.’’
The former Ontario Progress Conservative leader will take over as Toronto Mayor December 1.
He has held no public events since October 27, saying it’s “an awkward period where you are not the mayor yet, but just the mayor-elect’’.
But, according to Tory, he has been keeping busy “doing a lot of reading’’ on a range of things including budgeting and transit.
A series of briefing sessions and meetings, begun last week and held with agencies such as the TTC, Police Services Board and Toronto Community Housing Corporation, is continuing this week, Tory said.
Tory has appointed former journalist, Chris Eby, as his chief of staff and long-time public servant, Vic Gupta, as deputy chief of staff. He says he soon will be filling out the rest of his staff.
Tory says, among his priorities on taking office next month, will be making traffic in Toronto “much better’’.
“I’m going to move fairly quickly on traffic,’’ he reiterated in the Pride interview. “Everybody is affected by it.’’
Tory admitted that he can’t fix everything overnight. But, he promised to also move immediately on uniting Toronto and to “do some things to bring the city together,’’ as well as “end the isolation that some people feel’’.
Tory, 60, met Chapman during his first run for mayor in 2003, when he lost to David Miller.
“What John Tory did after he lost was incredibly moving and inspiring. He took on our community as if it were his family he was fighting for and supporting,’’ Chapman told Pride.
“Our issues and concerns became his. He threw his time, body, energy, money and support at us. For the first time in a long time we felt that we had someone of integrity on our side,’’ she remarked.
“John has never turned his back on us and has given so much that he was recognized by getting these awards: Planet Africa, Harry Jerome, Future Aces, African Canadian Achievement, and Sickle Cell Miracle Network,’ she added.’
Chapman – a television host, producer, motivational speaker, and community advocate and organizer – has gone from supporter to “super supporter,’’ Tory said.
“She was, and is, hugely important to me. It was a lucky day when I met her 11 years ago,’’ the mayor-elect said. “She is the most enthusiastic and consistent supporter; totally committed every day and full of energy.’’
Tom Allison, Tory’s campaign manager, was impressed with Chapman’s efforts, saying she “has a great talent for communications and for working with people’’.
“She made an enormous contribution to John’s campaign and we benefited greatly from her work,’’ Allison said.
“She organized events, led teams of volunteers, worked with community media and made speeches on behalf of our campaign. I vividly remember her speaking for John at the special First Friday meeting in the final months of the campaign. She was passionate, articulate and convincing. I hope I get the chance to work with Gwyn again in the future.’’
Chapman, in commenting on her relationship with the mayor-elect over the past decade, said they share “many similar characteristics in terms of our commitment to do whatever we can to make life better for others. Those principles and passions are very real to us both, and I think that’s why we work well together’’.
She described Tory as “a real soldier in the trenches’’, adding that “people like that are a rarity; so, he would always get my support. Anyone who supports and helps my community to the degree he has, and at times in opposition to what the norm would advise, is a friend of ours. He’s not afraid to go against the grain to stand for what is right, fair and just’’.
Chapman’s main role in Tory’s triumphant mayoral campaign was, as she puts it, “to create momentum, excitement and to promote the heck out of Mr Tory; to let everyone who would listen understand just how lucky we are to have him run this race and to win them over. I think I achieved that goal’’.
Her most memorable campaign moment was an event hosted by African-Canadian supporters of Tory.
“You could have seen the love and appreciation that they all had for John,’’ recalled Chapman, who is also president of the Canadian Black Caucus. “These were some of our leaders and elders in the community. The things that they had to say about him were sincere, moving and demonstrated a man’s commitment to wanting to help those who have been left behind – the invisible people with a mountain of potential that others are too busy to recognize.’’
Volunteering isn’t new to Chapman. She volunteered as teenager living in the nation’s capital. Chapman was also raised in St. Lucia and the United States.
“Somehow, I took after my father who was always concerned about the welfare of people in general but, in particular, taught us that we have to look out for each other,’’ Chapman said.
“Growing up in Ottawa I noticed a lot of young people like myself just hanging out in the malls and so on. I was curious to find out what was going on with them and how I can help.’’
After moving to Toronto, “my eyes were opened to the fact that we had a lot of people in neighbourhoods who were in trouble. My community needed help,’’ Chapman said.
“I felt we had very little representation in politics and leadership, and I was not satisfied with that. My father always said if you want change, it had better start with you. I wanted better for my community and I knew that I had to get mainstream attention and support. I went looking for help for my community and I found John Tory,’ she added.’
Chapman, who has received Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her community service to Canada, has not disclosed whether she definitely will make a run at politics in the future. But, her faith has been renewed in politicians because of Tory.
“Seeing – and actually knowing – someone like John gave me the confidence in politicians again. I realize that if more good and decent people got involved in the process, we would have more decent and good people running our city,’’ she said.
“Politics has had a negative effect on people and has kept good people away. That has to change if we want better for our children and city.’’