More stories

  • in

    New York City Pulls Plug on Second Homeless Shelter in Chinatown

    The Adams administration backtracked on the second shelter, one of three that had been proposed for the neighborhood, after protests from the community.For the second time in less than a week, New York City canceled plans on Monday for a shelter in Chinatown, where community opposition has complicated Mayor Eric Adams’s efforts to move homeless New Yorkers off the streets.The 94-bed shelter would have been in a closed hotel at the busy intersection of Grand Street and Bowery. The location is near where an Asian American woman was murdered in February in an attack for which a homeless man has been charged. The shelter’s would-be operator, Housing Works, had planned to allow illegal drugs in the building, a move that drew fierce condemnation from local residents.Both canceled shelters are of a specialized type known as safe havens or stabilization hotels, which offer more privacy and social services and fewer restrictions than traditional shelters. Mr. Adams announced plans last week to open at least 900 rooms in such shelters by mid-2023.The city Department of Homeless Services, which had previously said that the large street-homeless population in the neighborhood made it a crucial place to add shelter capacity, said on Monday that it would instead open a facility in an area with fewer services for the homeless.The department said in a statement, “Our goal is always to work with communities to understand their needs and equitably distribute shelters across all five boroughs to serve our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”This was the same reason that city offered last week when it announced it would not open the other Chinatown shelter, at 47 Madison Street.But uncertainty about which union’s workers would staff the shelter may have also played a role in the shelter’s cancellation.Charles King, the C.E.O. of Housing Works, said that the organization was required to use workers from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents Housing Works’ employees.But the powerful New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, which has close ties to the mayor and is better known as the Hotel Trades Council, said that it has an existing contract with the owner of the building, a former Best Western hotel, requiring the building to use its workers.“There’s only one contract with this building, and it’s ours,” said Rich Maroko, president of the Hotel Trades Council. Mr. King said that Housing Works proposed a compromise under which the building owner would hire eight Hotel Trades Council workers. But he said Gary Jenkins, the city commissioner of social services, who oversees the Department of Homeless Services, told him that the city was pulling the plug on the shelter at the Hotel Trades Council’s insistence.“It’s really clear to me that the mayor is more concerned about pleasing this one union than he is about addressing the needs of homeless people,” Mr. King said.The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. King’s assertion. Mr. Maroko said that the hotel union had urged City Hall not to go through with the shelter conversion.The R.W.D.S.U., which is in contentious contract negotiations with Housing Works, said for its part, “We have no desire to displace hotel workers or see this hotel converted.”During the 2021 mayoral campaign, the hotel union, which has nearly 40,000 members, gave Mr. Adams his first major labor endorsement. Susan Lee, founder of the Alliance for Community Preservation and Betterment, a Chinatown group that mobilized protests against the shelter, applauded the city for “listening to the concerns of the Chinatown community.”She said she hoped the hotel would reopen as a tourist hotel and help the neighborhood recover from the pandemic.Dana Rubinstein More

  • in

    Charges Dropped Against Pamela Moses, Who Was Jailed Over Voter Fraud

    Pamela Moses, who was sentenced in January to six years in a case that outraged voting rights supporters, will not face a new trial, a district attorney said.A Tennessee prosecutor dropped all criminal charges on Friday against Pamela Moses, a Memphis woman with a previous felony conviction who was sentenced to six years and one day in prison in January after she tried to restore her right to vote in 2019.The voter fraud conviction from her trial was thrown out in February after a judge ruled that the Tennessee Department of Correction had improperly withheld evidence that was later uncovered by The Guardian. Ms. Moses had been set to appear in court on Monday to find out whether prosecutors would pursue a retrial.But Ms. Moses will no longer face a second trial “in the interest of judicial economy,” Amy Weirich, the district attorney of Shelby County, said in a statement. Ms. Moses spent 82 days in custody on this case, “which is sufficient,” Ms. Weirich said. Ms. Moses is also permanently barred from registering to vote or voting in Tennessee. Ms. Weirich declined to comment further on the case.The sentencing of Ms. Moses, who is Black, had spurred outrage among voting rights supporters who said that the case highlighted racial disparities in the criminal prosecution of voting fraud cases and opaque voting restoration rights laws that sow confusion and leave many people with felony convictions unsure of their rights.In the summer of 2019, Ms. Moses, a Black Lives Matter activist, decided she wanted to run for mayor of Memphis, or at the very least vote in the upcoming election.She knew that she couldn’t do either while she was on probation for prior felony convictions, including a 2015 conviction for tampering with evidence. But she believed her probation was over, according to her lawyer, Bede Anyanwu. Overall, Ms. Moses had 16 prior criminal convictions, including misdemeanor counts from 2015 of perjury, stalking and theft under $500, according to the district attorney’s office. In September 2019, a judge told Ms. Moses that she was still on probation. But when she went to the probation office to confirm, a probation officer told her she was actually done with her felony probation, records show. The probation officer signed off on her certificate of restoration to vote and Ms. Moses then submitted it to election officials.A day later, the Department of Correction sent a letter to the Shelby County Election Commission informing it that the probation officer had made a mistake and that Ms. Moses could not vote because she was in fact still on probation.Video from a January hearing shows Ms. Moses telling Judge W. Mark Ward of the Shelby County Criminal Court, “All I did was try to get my rights to vote back the way the people at the election commission told me.”Judge Ward responded, “You tricked the probation department into giving you a document saying that you were off probation.”Ms. Moses was charged with perjury on a registration form and consenting to a false entry on official election documents. The first charge was dropped, but she was convicted of the second charge in November and sentenced in January. Ultimately, Ms. Moses’ felony conviction in 2015 for tampering made her permanently ineligible to vote under Tennessee law regardless of her probation status.“The case should not have been prosecuted right from the beginning because there was no trickery,” Mr. Anyanwu said. Ms. Moses declined to comment on Saturday.In recent years, Republican officials have moved to crack down on voter fraud, despite the fact that the crime remains a very rare and often accidental occurrence. Florida election officials made just 75 referrals to law enforcement agencies regarding potential fraud during the 2020 election, out of more than 11 million votes cast, according to data from the Florida secretary of state’s office. Of those investigations, only four cases have been prosecuted as voter fraud.Still, legislators in some states have stiffened penalties for voting-related crimes, and district attorneys and state attorneys general have pursued aggressive felony prosecutions in cases that might have been deemed legitimate mistakes.Voting rights advocates interpret these actions as a voter suppression tactic.“These prosecutions are intended to scare people who have prior convictions from even trying to register to vote,” said Blair Bowie, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., who has been assisting Ms. Moses and Mr. Anyanwu with the case since October.These prosecutions also unfairly blame individuals for failing to navigate a voter restoration process that is unclear, she said, adding that state officials are responsible for putting adequate procedures in place for that process.Ms. Bowie is representing the Tennessee N.A.A.C.P. in a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee and other officials that accuses them of failing to establish clearer procedures for individuals with felony convictions, “leading to a rights restoration process that is unequal, inaccessible, opaque and inaccurate.”Nearly 80 percent of the disenfranchised people in the state have completed probation and parole and are potentially eligible to restore their voting rights, but fewer than 5 percent of potentially eligible Tennesseans have been able to acquire a completed certificate of restoration of voting rights and have tried to register to vote, according to the lawsuit.Voting rights advocates say that the case also highlights the racial disparity in the prosecution of voter fraud cases.“What we see consistently is honest mistakes made by returning citizens are penalized to the max, and true bad intentions are not being penalized to the same extent,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “And usually in those cases the defendants are white.”In October, Donald Kirk Hartle, a white Republican voter, was charged with two counts of voter fraud in Las Vegas after he forged his dead wife’s signature to vote with her ballot. He was sentenced in November to one year of probation, The Associated Press reported.Edward Snodgrass, a white Republican official in Ohio, forged his dead father’s signature on an absentee ballot in 2020 and was charged with illegal voting, NBC News reported. As part of a plea agreement, he served three days in jail last year, The Delaware Gazette reported.Ms. Moses is still pursuing the restoration of her civil rights, which include voting rights, through a lawsuit in Shelby County Circuit Court, according to Ms. Bowie. That lawsuit presents a constitutional challenge to the state statute that permanently bars people convicted of tampering with evidence from voting in Tennessee. More

  • in

    The Great Chicago Gas Giveaway and the Return of Stunt Philanthropy

    Grand shows of largess may be back in style. Recently, driving on the North Side of Chicago, I found myself stuck behind a line of cars long enough that I could not, at first, tell what was causing it. It was only minutes later, after I was able to switch lanes and pull ahead, that I saw the cars were waiting at a gas station. Had something in the news set off a flurry of panic buying? I turned on the radio and soon learned that the people I saw were not, in fact, buying fuel. They were hoping to get some free.This was a giveaway orchestrated by Willie Wilson, a Chicago businessman known locally as a rags-to-riches success story and a serial long-shot political candidate, having run to be mayor of the city (in 2015), president of the United States (2016), mayor of Chicago again (2019) and U.S. senator (2020). On March 17, the day I passed that gas line, he gave away $200,000 worth of fuel at 10 stations around the city, capped at $50 per car. A week later he did it again, this time buying about a million dollars’ worth of gas at 48 stations.Wouldn’t it have been just as effective — as charity, not political theater — to hand out prepaid gas cards?On the morning of the second giveaway, I tuned in to a livestreamed news conference Wilson held at a station in Cicero, a suburb that borders Chicago’s West Side. The more I thought about the giveaways, the more absurd they came to seem. Even setting aside my wish that Wilson had used some of his money to support public transit (a much more robust and environmentally healthy response to oil-price instability), the logistics seemed offensively nonsensical. If the point was to give 24,000 drivers $50 of gas each, wouldn’t it have been just as effective — as charity, not political theater — to hand out prepaid gas cards? Drivers lined up hours early, and in some cases overnight, creating carbon-spewing, commute-snarling traffic jams. Police officers were deployed to manage the lines, meaning that what appeared to be an individual act of philanthropy was in fact partly subsidized by taxpayers. When a CBS Chicago journalist asked Wilson if he would help cover those manpower costs, he argued that the taxes he paid over the years were more than enough. Asked about gas cards, he said: “Don’t nobody tell me how to spend my money. You do gas cards, people come up with counterfeit gas cards, and it doesn’t work right.”Wilson was expected to announce another run for mayor shortly, and if this looked a little like a vote-buying stunt, plenty of others lined up to reap its benefits. As the news conference began, Wilson stood off to one side, watching cheerfully as person after person stepped forward to celebrate his efforts. Richard Boykin, Wilson’s candidate of choice for Cook County board president, served as a kind of M.C. There was a prayer led by Cicero’s police and fire department chaplain. The town president spoke, expressing his admiration for Wilson’s generosity, his disgust at gas prices and some quick thoughts on energy policy (“All they got to do is open up the pipeline. Why don’t they open up the pipeline?”). Representative Danny K. Davis talked about Wilson’s long history of philanthropy. Cicero’s police chief spoke. Someone from the town’s board of trustees spoke, then a local reverend, then a gas-station owner, then the town president’s wife, then another gas-station owner, then a representative from the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition.Finally it was Wilson’s turn. The government wasn’t moving fast enough, he said. “If gasoline prices go up again,” he said, “then we’re going to be compelled to do this again.” As for the people who needed the fuel, he said: “I’m enjoying it more than they’re enjoying it. Because the Lord has blessed me to be able to do it.”It wasn’t long ago that gestures like Wilson’s felt like products of a bygone era of American life, when it was common for the wealthy to sprinkle money down on the masses in ways that, in addition to doing real good, might distract from their rapacious business practices and make them look like champions of the common man. The political “machines” that ran many cities and states had their own versions of this game, dispensing money and jobs to buy votes and curry public favor. But at some point these approaches came into disrepute, at least in their most overt manifestations. Respectable charities put some degree of separation, however cosmetic, between wealthy donors and good work. Respectable politicians are expected to back helpful policies, campaign by explaining their benefits and, sure, show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies to claim credit for every dollar funneled toward constituents. But anything that looks too much like a handout from the powerful risks seeming like the stuff of robber barons and back-alley politics.Maybe that’s changing. As of 2018, a stray tweet at Elon Musk about the water supply in Flint, Mich., could draw a response pledging to “fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels.” The billionaire Robert Smith finished a 2019 Morehouse College commencement speech by saying he would cover student debt for the entire graduating class. (A year later, he would pay millions to the federal authorities to settle a tax-evasion case.) Similar exercises extend into politics. During Wilson’s 2019 mayoral campaign, he gave out money at a South Side church and City Hall, saying he wanted to help people with their property-tax bills. (He argued that because this money went through his nonprofit, and not his mayoral campaign, it was not subject to campaign-finance laws; the Chicago Board of Elections agreed.) That same year, Andrew Yang, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, promised to give 10 families $1,000 a month each as a proof-of-concept for a universal basic income. After leaving the race, he started a nonprofit that gave 1,000 Bronx residents $1,000 each; less than a year later, he was running for mayor of New York. You can even make a show of distributing public money, as politicians have long done with things like tax rebates and stimulus checks; in 2020, days before the first individual pandemic-relief checks went out, White House officials scrambled to make sure Donald Trump’s name was printed on them.Wilson’s willingness to drop big cash on gas giveaways says little about how he would actually govern, or address such costs overall. It is intended to broadcast that he cares, and that he acts. This explains, in part, why so many public officials participated in his news conference. (When, in the popular consciousness, government means out-of-touch inefficiency, even insiders want to brand themselves as outsiders.) But like so many shows of generosity, there is a gamble here. Some may see you as a populist savior, but others may be convinced that you’re a huckster, more interested in self-aggrandizement than in actually changing anything. Which reaction prevails will depend: How much frustration and desperation are out there?As political battles over pandemic relief, inflation and gas prices continue, I wager that we’ll see even more exercises like Wilson’s. In the week after Wilson’s news conference, Chicago’s current mayor, Lori Lightfoot, held one of her own, announcing an actual city program that will distribute $7.5 million in prepaid gas cards and $5 million in prepaid public-transit rides. The program has received nothing close to the media coverage of Wilson’s gas giveaway. (Wilson, for his part, had the self-confidence to dismiss Lightfoot’s program as a “political stunt.”) One response, for anyone displeased by this disparity, would be to blame sensationalistic media and despair. The other would be to start cooking up good stunts of your own.Source photographs: Screen grabs from YouTubePeter C. Baker is a freelance writer in Evanston, Ill., and the author of the novel “Planes,” to be published by Knopf in May. More

  • in

    Surfside Mayor Loses Election

    Charles Burkett was the mayor of Surfside when the 13-story Champlain Towers South complex fell in June, killing 98 people. He lost his re-election bid by 33 votes on Tuesday.The mayor who led the seaside town of Surfside, Fla., through the traumatic aftermath of the collapse of a condominium tower in which 98 people were killed last year was voted out of office on Tuesday night.The mayor, Charles Burkett, who was elected in 2020, placed third in the three-way race and lost by 33 votes to the winner, Shlomo Danzinger, according to an unofficial tally.Mr. Burkett was thrust into the national spotlight after the Champlain Towers South, a 13-story residential condo building just north of Miami Beach, collapsed in the early hours of June 24. He was a fixture at press briefings as firefighters, search dogs and emergency crews spent weeks scouring the rubble for survivors. Eventually, the rescue effort shifted to a recovery operation, when rescuers acknowledged that no more survivors would be found.The tragedy was officially deemed one of the deadliest accidental structural building failures in American history and was expected to lead to years of investigations. The first signs of failure were found at the building’s base and in an underground garage, but federal authorities have not determined what caused the collapse.The Champlain Towers South condominium complex in Surfside partially collapsed in 2021, killing 98 people.Erin Schaff/The New York Times“It’s been a pretty tough two years,” Mr. Burkett said in an interview on Wednesday. “The day I was elected, the country shut down because of Covid, and then the next year we had the building collapse. It was all hands on deck.”He said he believed that rancor at recent town meetings had led voters in the town of about 6,000 people to seek new leadership.In July 2020, a town commissioner, Eliana R. Salzhauer, gave Mr. Burkett the middle finger after he muted her during a virtual meeting about a proposed anti-discrimination resolution. The disagreement was over Mr. Burkett’s proposal to add Christians to an ordinance denouncing hatred against Asians and Jews.“I liken it to a cage fight,” Mr. Burkett said, referring to the meetings. “We’re all put into this cage for five hours and then asked to conduct a productive meeting.”Ms. Salzhauer, who was up for re-election, also lost her seat. She did not respond to messages on Wednesday.On his campaign website, Mr. Danzinger, a father of five children, describes himself as a community activist and leader who has helped “tech startups and tech giants” for more than 25 years. He pushed for “restoring civility and dignity” to the commission and railed against the “obscene gestures and comments made during public meetings” that he said had “put our town in the press’s crosshairs.” Shlomo Danzinger was scheduled to be sworn in as mayor of Surfside on Wednesday night.Pedro Portal/Miami Herald, via Associated Press“Needless to say, our town deserves leaders who put aside their egos for the benefit of the community,” Mr. Danzinger said on his website. He also pushed for a “gold standard” for building requirements that would ensure the safety of new developments and neighboring buildings while demanding accountability from developers.Mr. Danzinger received 499 votes. Tina Paul, the town’s vice mayor, placed second with 476 votes. Mr. Burkett received 466 votes, according to unofficial results.Mr. Danzinger did not respond to messages for comment on Wednesday. He is scheduled to be sworn into office on Wednesday night, according to the town clerk’s office.During the campaign, Mr. Danzinger presented himself as a family man who lives in the heart of town while saying that Mr. Burkett “lives alone in a mansion on the pristine little enclave of Biscaya Island.”Mr. Burkett, who owns Burkett Properties Inc., a real estate company, said he lives with his son, who is 18.A supporter of the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, a Republican, Mr. Burkett said he would turn his attention to helping him get re-elected this November. Mr. Burkett, who is not affiliated with a political party, said he also admired Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, who are both Republicans. He said he would consider running for governor or the Senate if any of the three current office holders choose not to run again.While he was surprised by the results, Mr. Burkett said he was glad Mr. Danzinger won. Mr. Burkett described his opponent as someone who has “a very similar worldview compared to me.”“It’s a good day because the town of Surfside is going to be fine,” Mr. Burkett said. “We’ve got good people in place. They’re reasonable. They’re thoughtful.” More

  • in

    Just How Liberal Is California? The Answer Matters to Democrats Everywhere.

    LOS ANGELES — California is awash in money, with so many billions in surplus revenue that the state cannot enact programs fast enough. Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in the Legislature, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has a $25 million campaign war chest to fend off any token opposition in his re-election bid.Yet all is far from tranquil in this sea of blue. Deep fissures divide Democrats, whose control of state government effectively gives them unilateral power to enact programs. As elections approach, intraparty demands, denunciations and purity tests have exposed rifts between progressives and moderates that seem destined to become more vitriolic — and more consequential. We are about to find out just how liberal California is.The answer will shape policy as the most populous state wrestles with conflicts over seemingly intractable problems: too many homeless, too many drug overdoses, too many cars, too many guns, too much poverty. Although some dynamics are peculiar to California, the outcome will also have implications for the parallel debate swirling among national Democrats. Because if progressives here cannot translate their ideology into popular support that wins elections, it will not bode well for their efforts on a national scale.California has long been more centrist than its popular image. The “Mod Squad,” a caucus of moderate Democratic state lawmakers, has had outsize influence for more than a decade. As the Republican Party became increasingly marginal, business interests that had traditionally backed Republican candidates realized they could have more influence by supporting conservative Democrats. That paradigm accelerated with the shift to a system in which the top two finishers in a primary advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Designed to promote more centrist candidates from both parties, it often results in face-offs between two Democrats.A contest emblematic of the California divide is unfolding in Los Angeles. From a crowded field of mayoral candidates, the two most likely to advance offer a stark contrast: Representative Karen Bass, a stalwart liberal embraced for both her politics and her background in community organizing, and the billionaire developer Rick Caruso, who has sounded the familiar refrain that it’s time for a businessman to clean up the failures of the political class. In a bow to the overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, Mr. Caruso, best known for his high-end shopping malls, recently changed his registration from no party preference to Democrat — even though the race is nonpartisan. For her part, Ms. Bass has called for freeing up more police officers for patrol (and hiring replacements for administrative duties) and equivocated on abolishing cash bail, positions that alarmed some of her natural allies.It is hard to know just how much the pandemic, on top of the Trump years, has scrambled the political calculus. We have traffic jams at the ports that rival those on the roads, restaurant tables where cars once parked, hotels that catered to tourists now sheltering the homeless. Anger over closed schools and mask mandates has triggered a record number of recalls (most notably the landslide that recalled three San Francisco school board members, on which progressives and moderates agreed). In the far northern county of Shasta, a group including members of a local militia won control of the board of supervisors by recalling a Republican ex-police chief who had not been sufficiently anti-mask or pro-gun. A prominent anti-Trump Republican consultant called the vote a “canary in a coal mine” for the direction of his state party.If mask and vaccine mandates have become the litmus test for the far right, the left has chosen as its defining issue a far more complex — but seemingly unattainable — goal: single-payer health care. When a bill (with an estimated price of more than $300 billion a year) made it to the Assembly floor, progressives threatened to deny party support to any Democrat who voted no. Far short of the necessary yes votes, the sponsor, Ash Kalra of San Jose, a progressive Democrat, pulled the bill rather than force a vote that could be used against his colleagues. He was pilloried as a traitor by activists.The Working Families Party, which has pushed for progressive priorities in the New York State Legislature, recently established a branch in California in hopes of having similar influence and endorsing and supporting progressive Democrats. The group’s state director, Jane Kim, a former San Francisco supervisor who lost the 2018 mayoral race to the moderate London Breed and then helped Bernie Sanders win the California primary, argues that the state’s electorate is more liberal than its elected officials, who are beholden to the influence of large corporate donors. Still, in the 2020 general election — with a record-setting turnout — voters defeated almost all ballot initiatives that were priorities of the progressives, opting not to restore affirmative action, nor impose higher taxes on commercial and industrial properties, nor abolish cash bail, nor expand rent control.In the arena of criminal justice, where voters and lawmakers have consistently made progressive changes in recent years, the growing concern about crime (some justified by data and some not) will soon test the commitment to move away from draconian sentences and mass incarceration. The conservative Sacramento district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, is running for state attorney general on the slogan “Stop the Chaos,” tying her opponent, the incumbent Rob Bonta, to what she calls “rogue prosecutors” like the progressive district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco, who are targets of recall campaigns.In June, San Franciscans will decide whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a referendum on his performance as well as a vote that moderates have framed as a cornerstone of the fight to “take back” their city from progressives. In a city decidedly less liberal than its reputation, Mayor Breed has referred to members of the board of supervisors as “a very, very extremely left group of people.”With near-record office turnover — a result of reapportionment, term limits, frustration and fatigue — the winners of the coming elections will collectively reshape the political landscape for many years. A quarter of the 120 state legislative districts will have new representatives next year, and among those departing are some of the most influential lawmakers.It would be nice to think that change will usher in a new generation of leaders, one that builds on the excitement and enthusiasm generated, especially among young people, by the 2020 Sanders campaign. It is hard not to root for young activists. They will live or die with the consequences of decisions being made today on air, water, housing, schools.In a recent poll, young adults who were asked the most pressing issue for the governor and Legislature to work on this year were twice as likely as those over 35 to cite jobs and the economy, and were far less concerned about crime. They were also more optimistic, with more than half saying California was headed in the right direction.The pandemic might yet prove to be the disruption needed to trigger big political shifts, comparable with those triggered in the arena of jobs and work. So far, it seems to have driven people further into their corners. The next generation will have to find a way to fill in that hollowed-out middle, just as they will have to bridge the ever-growing chasms in wealth, which in turn drive so much of the political divide.Miriam Pawel (@miriampawel) is the author of “The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty That Transformed a State and Shaped a Nation.”The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

  • in

    At 101, and After 36 Years as Mayor, ‘Hurricane Hazel’ Is Still a Force in Canada

    After playing pro hockey in the 1940s, Hazel McCallion entered politics at a time when few women held high office, leading a major Canadian city through epic growth. Her endorsements still matter.MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — On Valentine’s Day, she first took a call from Justin Trudeau. Next, she joined Ontario’s premier at the unveiling of a new commuter train line to be named in her honor.By 4:30 p.m. that day — her 101st birthday — Hazel McCallion had arrived at a shopping mall, where she took a seat in a rocking chair behind a velvet rope at an exhibition about her life and began accepting bouquets and tributes from dozens of fans.Slightly taller than five feet, Ms. McCallion commanded attention from towering well wishers, just as she has commanded respect in Canadian politics for decades.She has been a force in Canadian politics for longer than just about anyone alive, even though she began her career in middle age.She mounted her first campaign for elected office in 1966, five years before Mr. Trudeau, the prime minister, was born.When in 1978 she was first elected mayor of Mississauga, a Toronto suburb, her City Hall office looked out on cows.By the time she left office, 36 years later at the age of 93, the fields had been replaced with condo towers, a college campus, a transit hub and shopping centers in what is now Canada’s seventh largest city, granting her a moniker she isn’t so fond of, “the queen of sprawl.”An exhibition about Ms. McCallion’s life at the Erin Mills Town Center in Mississauga, Ontario.Tara Walton for The New York TimesShe prefers the nickname “Hurricane Hazel,” an ode to her brash style — though a devastating storm with the same name, which killed about 80 people around Toronto in 1954, was still fresh in local memory when she earned it.Just months into her first term, she gained a national profile for managing a mass evacuation of close to 220,000 residents after a train derailment in 1979.The dramatic event was ordained the “Mississauga Miracle” because of the success of the emergency response after two-dozen rail cars transporting hazardous chemicals erupted in flames at an intersection in the city.No one died, and one of the few people injured was Ms. McCallion, who sprained her ankle rushing around to work on the evacuation. She had to be carried into some meetings by emergency responders.“A job was to be done,” Ms. McCallion said, “and I did it.”As mayor, she was known for an uncompromising leadership style, a take-no-prisoners bluntness and a political independence that meant she never ran under the banner of any party.“It’s not like she’s had consistent positions all these years,” said Tom Urbaniak, a professor of political science at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia and the author of a book about Mississauga’s sprawl during Ms. McCallion’s time in office. “She was very, very pragmatic and that was part of her political recipe.”A photo of Ms. McCallion on display at an exhibit entitled “Hazel: 100 Years of Memories.”Her hockey skills were also renowned — she played professionally — and in the political arena, they translated into a willingness to deliver bruising checks on opponents.“Everybody sort of genuflected to Hazel because she was this little dynamo,” said David Peterson, a former Liberal premier of Ontario between 1985 and 1990. “She’s a team player, if she’s running the team. But I can’t imagine having Hazel in a cabinet,” he added. “She’s not a comfortable follower.”She was 57 when she became Mississauga’s mayor, at a time when there were few women holding significant political office in Canada.But sitting for an interview in the living room of her home in Mississauga a few days after her 101st birthday celebrations, Ms. McCallion was characteristically curt in dismissing discussion of any of the sexism she may have encountered.“I’ve had very strong male support because I’m independent,” she said. “And they know that I am not a wallflower.”In her successful first campaign for Mississauga mayor, her opponent, the incumbent, regularly repeated patronizing references to her gender, which helped rally support for her. She defeated him and never lost an election after that, coasting to victory in most subsequent elections by outsize margins.Mississauga’s city hall, the former workplace of Ms. McCallion.Tara Walton for The New York TimesHer home in Mississauga is decorated with the mementos and celebrity photos one might expect from such a long political career. Less typically, hockey jerseys with numbers commemorating her 99th, 100th and 101st birthdays are hung over the spiral banister across from her dining room.Among all the objects, she said the one she holds most dear is a clock from her hometown, Port Daniel, on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. The youngest of five children, Ms. McCallion was born in a farmhouse and grew up during the Great Depression.“When you have to leave home at 14 and you’re a Depression kid, you have to become completely independent,” she said. “You don’t call home for money.”She spent her high school years studying in Montreal and Quebec City, and credits her mother, a nurse, for instilling in her the confidence to take on the world. She later finished secretarial school, got a job managing an engineering firm’s office in Montreal — and started playing professional hockey for five dollars a game.She played from 1940 to 1942 in a women’s league with three teams and was known for her speed on the ice. She had to get two bottom teeth replaced following a stick to the mouth in a particularly rough game. In her 2014 memoir, “Hurricane Hazel: A Life With Purpose,” she wrote, “Considering the dental cost, I guess I broke even on my professional hockey career.”The engineering firm relocated her to Toronto, which had no women’s league, so she stopped playing hockey for pay, but continued to skate, fast, until about three years ago. She left the firm after more than two decades to help her husband manage his printing business, and she became more involved in the business community of Streetsville, Ontario, at the time an independent suburb of Toronto.Ms. McCallion and her late husband Sam.Tara Walton for The New York TimesA signed photo from Celine Dion hangs in Ms. McCallion’s kitchen.Tara Walton for The New York TimesShe said she was frustrated by the boys’ club running the town and was appointed to its planning board, eventually chairing it. She served as mayor of Streetsville from 1970 to 1973, before it was amalgamated with Mississauga.Her husband, Sam McCallion, died in 1997. The couple had three children. “I had a wonderful husband,” Ms. McCallion said. “He stood back. He looked after his business, and he let me look after the politics, so we worked extremely well together.”As Mississauga grew rapidly during her time as mayor, her tenure was not without its detractors. She became known for stamping out expressions of dissent at City Hall, with the political horse trading occurring in private, which made for blandly accordant council meetings, said Mr. Urbaniak, the political scientist.“Some of the serious conversation and debate unfortunately happened behind closed doors in order to try to present this unified front,” Mr. Urbaniak said. “It seemed a little eerie.”Perhaps a product of so many decades spent in politics, Ms. McCallion tends to talk in aphorisms and mantras: No decision is worse than a bad one, make everyday count, negativity is bad for your health, have a purpose. And her favorite: “Do your homework.”“I’ve had very strong male support because I’m independent,” Ms. McCallion said. “And they know that I am not a wallflower.”Tara Walton for The New York TimesOne of the rare times she seemed to have not done her homework led to conflict-of-interest allegations and a subsequent court case that was dismissed by a judge in 2013.Ms. McCallion claimed to not have known the extent of her son’s ownership stake in a real estate company that proposed to develop land near City Hall into an upscale hotel, convention center and condominiums. The project was scrapped, with the land used instead for the Hazel McCallion campus at Sheridan College.“Unfortunately, my son, he had heard me talk so often that we needed a convention center in the city core,” she said. “He attempted to do it and tried to convince others to support him.”In her memoir, Ms. McCallion insists that she always put the interests of residents first and denounces the multimillion dollar cost to taxpayers for a judicial inquiry “so that my political opponents could try to extract their pound of flesh from me.”Since retiring as mayor in 2014, she has kept an exhausting schedule — rising at 5:30 a.m., supporting campaigns for local causes and making frequent stops at the exhibition, or as she calls it, “my museum,” to meet with community groups.People continue to seek out her presence and her political blessing, including Bonnie Crombie, whom she endorsed — some say anointed — to take her place as mayor.Ms. McCallion spends a good amount of time at the exhibit, one leg crossed over the other in her rocking chair, receiving visitors who thank her, she said, “for creating a great city.”“If you build a sound foundation,” she said, “then nobody can ruin it.” More

  • in

    Louisville Mayoral Candidate Says Gunman Shot at Him in Campaign Office

    The candidate, Craig Greenberg, was unharmed, but the attack left a bullet hole in his sweater. A man was charged with attempted murder, the police said.A mayoral candidate in Louisville, Ky., said he was the target of a shooting inside his campaign office on Monday that left him unharmed but shaken — and with a bullet hole in the back of his sweater.The candidate, Craig Greenberg, said he and four members of his campaign team were in a morning meeting near downtown when a man walked in.“When we greeted him, he pulled out a gun, aimed directly at me and began shooting,” Mr. Greenberg said at a news conference.The gunman was standing in the doorway as he fired his weapon multiple times, Mr. Greenberg said, and a member of his campaign staff slammed the door shut before helping to build a barricade out of tables and desks.Police officers who responded to the scene detained Quintez Brown, 21, outside the building. Mr. Brown was later charged with attempted murder and four counts of wanton endangerment, a Police Department spokeswoman said.According to Louisville news media outlets, Mr. Brown is a Black Lives Matter activist who was involved in protests after city police officers killed Breonna Taylor during a botched drug raid in her apartment in March 2020. He has written columns for The Courier-Journal about race and social justice.Mr. Brown announced in December that he would run for a Metro Council seat but county records show that he did not file to do so before last month’s deadline. It was unclear whether he had a lawyer.Mr. Greenberg declined to say whether he recognized the attacker, citing the police investigation, and it was not clear why he was targeted.Chief Erika Shields of the Louisville Metro Police Department said at a news conference that possible reasons for the attack include Mr. Greenberg’s mayoral candidacy or his Jewish identity, but that it was also conceivable that the police were “dealing with someone who has mental issues or is venomous.”“Until we can determine what the motivating factors were, we are going to keep an open mind and proceed with an abundance of caution and concern for many of our community members,” Chief Shields said.Mr. Greenberg, a Democrat, is in a crowded race to replace Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat who cannot run again because he is limited to three terms. The party primary contests are in May, followed by a general election in November.There are eight Democratic candidates, including David L. Nicholson, the Circuit Court clerk for Jefferson County; the Rev. Timothy Findley Jr. of Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center; and Shameka Parrish-Wright, a local social justice activist. Bill Dieruf, the mayor of Jeffersontown, a Louisville suburb, is one of the four Republicans in the race.Mr. Greenberg is a businessman who has been the president of a boutique hotel chain and a member of the University of Louisville’s board of trustees. He has been endorsed by at least six members of the 26-person Metro Council, including its president.The top issue on Mr. Greenberg’s campaign website is public safety. An eight-page plan outlines his desire, among other things, to hire nearly 300 police officers and to dedicate more resources to solving violent crime and making sure illegal guns stay off the streets.“Too many Louisville families have experienced the trauma of gun violence,” Mr. Greenberg said after the shooting. “Too many in Louisville were not as blessed as my team and I were today to survive.“Clearly, much more work needs to be done to end this senseless gun violence and make Louisville a safer place for everyone.”Like many large cities, Louisville has seen an increase in violent crime during the coronavirus pandemic. The city set a record with 173 homicides in 2020, and then broke it with 188 homicides last year. There were 18 homicides this year through Feb. 6, according to the Police Department, slightly behind last year’s pace.The Police Department itself has been under scrutiny for years, most prominently after officers killed Ms. Taylor. The police chief at that time was fired after officers killed a restaurant owner during protests over Ms. Taylor’s death.On Monday, Mr. Greenberg thanked the Police Department for its swift response to the shooting and its daily efforts to keep the city safe. He said he wanted to go home and hug his wife and two sons, pausing to compose himself.“It all happened so quick, but it’s a very surreal experience,” he said of the shooting. “There are far too many other people in Louisville who have experienced that same feeling.” More