Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On Behalf of the Mayor

Our first meeting was when I was 5 years old. He came over, said hello and asked my name. Then, he gave me a pen and a pin.

For the next 2 years, each Friday at breakfast, I watched him with curiosity as he moved around the room. I watched him as he ate breakfast. I watched him as he let his breakfast grow cold as he talked to a local about her daughter's issues at school.

"He's the Mayor" my mom told me.

On Friday April 22, 1988 I finally spoke to him of my own accord. "I'm working on a project. Can you tell me about the people you meet as Mayor?"

For the next 3 weeks, we spent Friday mornings together, greeting people at the small downtown Kitchener restaurant. We talked about babies and grandchildren, we talked about parks and camps, we spoke with every single person who came in on those days, not about what he wanted to speak about but what they wanted to speak about.

On May 20, 1988 I was waiting as he strolled into the restaurant. Excitedly, I showed him my project. A big red "A" at the top of the page.

"You deserve to be Mayor of the Day" he declared, before giving me an entire baggie full of pins and a handful of pens my small hands hand no chance of gripping. I spent the rest of that day handing out those pens, "On behalf of Mayor Dom" I told each person I met.

We continued to meet at breakfast each week. The venue changed, the man never did. Over 7 more years, I completed 4 more projects featuring him and his relationship with the people in our city.

He taught me about politics. Not about how to win and not about how to make policy but how to make friends. He taught me how to make people feel worthy, even within the confines of a 2 minute conversation.

He wrote me a recommendation letter for college. I sent him a thank you note with a City of Kitchener pin slipped inside.

In June of 2002, we met for the final time. We were both walking in Victoria Park and happened upon each other. I knew who he was but was sure that several years had dulled his memory of me. I was wrong. A handshake and a hug before we fell into a slow step beside each other. We spoke of school and families, marriage and career. We stopped often, reaching down to pick up garbage. He dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a paper bag. "No plastic" he told me.

He was my first and most most memorable mentor. He didn't teach me about business, he taught me about people. He often spoke of relationships and taught me his secrets to remembering names and info about the people he would meet. It was an odd affiliation we had... from my childhood to teen-dom and eventually, married in my 20's. For him, the start of his Mayoral career to beyond his retirement and closing in on the start of ill health.

He had time for every person. He championed change and growth in our city. He taught me how to make change in my city, not necessarily within political confines but within the scope of kinship.

To Mayor Dom Cardillo, your life and your character helped shape mine. Your memory in Kitchener will be marked with pens, pins and the rapport you had with almost every citizen. This Saturday, when I treat my sons to breakfast out I will present them with a City of Kitchener pin. I will tell them they're on behalf of Mayor Dom. And then we'll travel to the place where you and I had our final meeting, to join our community in cleaning the park for Earth Day. I can't give you as much as you gave me but I can give you this.

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