In the past six months, I’ve had countless conversations with frustrated and cynical citizens. They’re all disgusted with our local politicians. Every time, I shut down the generalizations that suggestion all politicians are bad. Having worked alongside several here in Toronto, I can honestly say I’ve been impressed with their commitment, their energy and their vision for a better city. They’re not perfect, but they’re many of them doing good work on my behalf. And for that, they deserve my thanks and my applause.
One of those is Joe Mihevc, who has been my city councillor for four years. If you don’t believe a politician can be inherently good, sit with Joe for half an hour. He’s a good man, a good politician, and a good cyclist. And these days, he’s also a good grandfather!
I first met Joe Mihevc four years earlier at a cycling initiative meeting he had hosted at the newly opened Wychwood Barns gallery. Joe had called this meeting at the request of the Bike Union, which was still in its infancy. Our neighbourhood was pretty well infrastructured so I wanted to tell the organizers how thrilled I was with my commuter route.
In the meeting, I sat beside a man in a red sweater. Everyone was asked to add suggestions to a sheet on the wall, suggesting how we’d like to improve our cycling experience. I wrote something generic that I hoped was positive and useful. As I took my seat, the man in a red sweater leaned forward to read my comment. Turning to me he said excitedly, “Yes I agree! I was going to add that we need more of that!”
“What an encouraging fellow,” I thought, and promptly forgot about him.
At the end of the evening, the facilitator thanked everyone for coming and then, nodding at the man in the red sweater, she thanked Joe Mihevc for hosting this event. As he stood, my jaw fell.
“This is a politician?” I thought. He thanked us for coming and urged us to continue to send in comments to his office; he would work with the Bike Union to turn as many of these ideas into real initiatives as possible. The way he said it, I believed him.
After that, I noticed him everywhere in the neighbourhood. I volunteer a lot and he’s either helping the organizers, facilitating, or one of the attendants at the event. We see an awful lot of each other.
And now four years later, I can honestly say that Joe Mihevc does work hard to get bike infrastructure in place. I’ve ridden on our new bike lanes, volunteered at the Bike Friday Breakfasts at the Barns and helped identify acceptable locations for the new ring and post lockups along St. Clair West and Eglinton West. Joe is a good man. He’s not perfect, but he never promised me he would be, and since I can’t be throwing stones myself, we get on like wildfire. When we see each other in a crowd, we hug warmly. I have never considered becoming acquainted with a politician before and yet, I like my city councillor, both as a politician and as a friend, categorically. He makes me want to make a difference in my neighbourhood. I wish everyone could say that as sincerely as I do.
And so, I’ve come to see him at City Hall on an overcast day in February. Joe is after all, a cyclist—a common but earnest man in the crowd of cyclists pedalling to work, to the market, to attend events and meetings and functions all over his neighbourhood. Joe is Joe, and I’m grateful for that.
Joe want to discuss how his bike affects him personally, and that means talking about his beloved family.
“What kind of bike do you ride?” I ask him, to begin.
“I don’t remember what kind of bike it is, but I’ve had it for a pretty looooong time,” he smiles, wistfully. Joe has three children, the eldest of which is now thirty-one. As a child, the son and then the two daughters toured Toronto Island and the Humber River in the baby seat on the back of their father’s “urban terrain vehicle.” They have great memories from the vantage of his banged-up old mountain bike. But more important than remembering, Joe is also thinking ahead.
“I’ve left that baby seat on intentionally, to remind my kids that I want grandchildren,” he says, his eyes mischievous.
In the good weather, Joe travels from Ward Twenty-One to City Hall every day. He owns a car and I’ve met him on the TTC, but when he can, he prefers the bike.
“It’s the best way to get around the city,” he announces happily. “I love the feel of the wind against my cheek in the morning on Christie hill.” Coming back to the dreary day, he apologizes for not being good at the winter gear thing. He finds it too complicated. And then he laughs.
“It’s no big deal,” he assures me. The other commuting options work very well.
Like every cyclist, Joe’s had his share of spills and hospital visits as a result of collisions with vehicles. Nothing has been broken, nor will he abandon cycling. The politician in him can’t help brainstorming ideas for improving the system. Joe refers to the “8 – 80” concept, which espouses making a system comfortable for the entire age spectrum. And he’s proud to be able to call himself the very first city councillor to openly support the BIXI initiative.
At City Hall, Joe is endlessly optimistic and warm; his approach is casual and open. This attitude gives him credibility with his colleagues. Joe regularly encourages the current administration to push the envelope for small, incremental improvements, which would lead to the bigger changes in attitude. Pointing to Copenhagen as a prime example, he notes that forty years ago that city’s infrastructure was where ours is now, until their City Hall identified designated cycling streets to make biking a more accepted mode of transportation. Their winters are just as harsh as ours and yet today, fully one quarter of that population commutes by bike every day, all year long. Coincidentally, that is exactly the percentage of people who commute by TTC in Toronto each day.
To this day, Joe Mihevc continues to be a good neighbour, an excellent friend, and the best politician I’ve ever had the great privilege to vote into office. After the last election, he arrived unexpectedly at my doorstep with a bottle of wine, to thank me for my assistance with his campaign.
“You didn’t have to do this!” I exclaimed, a little shocked.
“Oh, yes I did!” he retorted.
“No, I was being selfish. It was in my best interest to get you re-elected.” He is a cyclist, after all.