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More than 30 people vie for Pam McConnell's council seat

Toronto council will gather Nov. 2 to choose a replacement for Councillor Pam McConnell, who died in July.
Oct. 23, 2017
By David Rider

More than 30 Torontonians want to replace the late Councillor Pam McConnell, including an anti-poverty ally and a transgender trailblazer.

On Monday afternoon, shortly before nominations closed, 32 people had put their names forward to seek the appointment to represent Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale until the Oct. 22, 2018 election.

McConnell, one of Mayor John Tory's deputy mayors and his lead on anti-poverty initiatives, died July 7 at age 71 after suffering lung problems.

Her family, in a letter emailed to city councillors Monday, strongly urge city councillors to choose Mike Creek as her successor when they gather Nov. 2.

Creek is an outspoken champion of the poor and advocate for welfare reform, and was a neighbour of McConnell's in the redeveloped Regent Park.

"We have observed Mike's work on and with different advisory groups, boards and agencies municipally, provincially, federally and internationally," states the letter signed by McConnell's husband Jim and daughters Heather Ann and Madelyn.

"In his work we have seen the collaborative, engaging and respectful approach that characterized Pam and which led to her success as a political leader."

They also say that Creek, director of strategic initiatives at the non-profit Working for Change, was a "key adviser" to McConnell on mental health, poverty and homelessness issues.

A 2010 Star story chronicled how Creek rebuilt his life, with help from a city program, after a cancer diagnosis at age 37 cost him his job and landed him in homeless shelters and social housing.

In an interview, Creek said he is honoured and humbled by the "bittersweet endorsement" resulting from the loss of his close friend.

"I hope to build out Pam's mandate that she was given by the electorate and follow those courses she set out," including the ongoing revitalization of Regent Park, waterfront redevelopment and flood mitigation for the Toronto islands, he said.

Creek, who turns 60 on the day the Ward 28 appointment will be made, says he will not run for council in next year's municipal election.

Susan Gapka, if appointed, would be Toronto's first trans city council member. She has won local and national awards for her community and political work on issues including LGBTQ rights and Toronto community housing.

Gapka grew up moving around in a military family, leaving Trenton, Ont., for Toronto and living on the streets for about a decade. After finding housing, she got into recovery and started volunteering at non-profits including the Daily Bread Food Bank. She worked in then-councillor Olivia Chow's office in a student placement.

"We could be a first if they did decide to appoint me as a candidate, the first I think in Canada to have an appointed trans person in public office. But I'm more than that, right?" she said Monday. "We're more than our identity. I've always been a trailblazer so this is another chance."

Gapka ran unsuccessfully for council in Ward 27 in 2006 and 2010. A familiar sight at city hall working with councillors on issues and initiatives, she said her knowledge of the council process would help her continue McConnell's work on human rights, equity, poverty reduction and the Toronto Community Housing Corp.

She has considered running for council in 2018. If councillors at the Nov. 2 meeting want applicants to promise not to run, lest their new profile give them an unfair advantage come election time, Gapka says she would agree.

"And if council goes with the will of the family, I will honour that - it will leave me open to run in the next municipal election," she said.