Note: This is the debut of David Goyette's "Backroom Briefing" for PTBOCanada. For more info on it, click here.
Q: I think it would be cool if the Mayor lived in City Hall kind of like the White House. Are there still living conditions on the top level and is it true it was once used to house a Mayor of Peterborough? —Pete Dalliday
Goyette: It may be that you have your tongue firmly planted in your cheek, but the issue is a good one. When Peterborough City Hall opened in October of 1951, with Ottawa Mayor Charlotte Whitton and Peterborough (England) Mayor Chamberlain officiating, there was an apartment on the third floor for the building’s stationary engineer and his family, who also functioned as a caretaker and had a wonderful habit of keeping detailed weather reports. As it happens, he was a relative of local drummer boy and jazz aficionado Verne Hope. The apartment is now reused for other purposes, as are the former courts and the Justice of the Peace offices.
There is no Canadian tradition of cities providing housing for Mayors. MPs and MPPs receive housing allowances to pay for apartments when they are away from their constituencies, and there is a time honoured practice of the overnight “coucher” by senior politicians dealing with emergencies or deadlines. There have been a handful of occasions when I nodded off with a team of political types in an overnighter to get something important ready for the next morning.
Americans do it differently, and a good example is Gracie Mansion at East End Avenue and 88th on the East River in Manhattan, which is the official residence of the Mayor of New York. I spent some cherished time there with former Mayor Ed Koch -- one of my favourite people -- who actually eschewed the Mansion as a residence in favour of a more comfortable and downscale apartment in Greenwich Village.
In the early 80s, we mulled over the idea with Toronto Mayor Eggleton of designating Spadina House as the Mayor’s residence -- a stately pile on the escarpment that was willed to the City and had become vacant, and whose big time neighbours included Casa Loma and “Arwold” -- the former Eaton estate. The potential downside turned out to be too large and it was dropped. The house reopened in 2010 as a City museum.
Would a taxpayer funded Mayor’s residence work here? Can’t see it. We are a community that wants to keep our politicians’ feet on the ground, and there is a very healthy cultural attitude that reminds all elected officials not to get too big for your britches.
David Goyette is the Executive Assistant to Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett. For more on his Backroom Briefing column, click here. Email your burning questions for David about City Hall to firstname.lastname@example.org.