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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Montreal gets its first Jewish mayor

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Michael Applebaum

MONTREAL — Michael Applebaum has become the first Jewish mayor of Montreal in its 370-year history, and the first anglophone mayor in a century.

He replaces Gérald Tremblay, who resigned following damning testimony about his administration at the Charbonneau commission on corruption in Quebec politics.

Applebaum will serve as interim mayor until the November 2013 election, after city council voted 31-29 for him over Richard Deschamps on Nov. 16 in a secret ballot. Three ballots were spoiled.

Applebaum, 49, who held the number 2 position at city hall – chair of the executive committee – for 1 1/2 years, has said he won’t run for mayor in the next election.

First elected to city council in 1994, Applebaum resigned the chairmanship of the executive committee after the governing Union Montreal party chose Deschamps, an executive committee vice president, as its candidate for interim mayor. Some suggested Applebaum’s French was not sufficiently fluent. Applebaum last week quit Union Montreal and announced he would run independently.

Applebaum, who is also mayor of the Côte des Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, has strong ties to the Jewish community and has been openly supportive of Israel.

He has spoken eloquently about the Jewish state at the annual downtown Yom Ha’atzmaut rallies, has regularly attended Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee events, and, in 2006, refused a request by the pro-Palestinian group Tadamon for a minute of silence at a borough council meeting for a Montreal family killed in Lebanon by Israeli shelling during the conflict with Hezbollah.

Last year, Applebaum, along with fellow councillor Marvin Rotrand, spearheaded a petition to have a public place in Montreal named in memory of Montreal writer Mordecai Richler.

Applebaum, known for his unflappability and fiscal responsibility, was elevated by Tremblay to the second-most powerful job at city hall in the wake of an earlier scandal in 2011 that saw Applebaum’s predecessor resign under a cloud. He was the second Jew to ever hold that job.

Applebaum insisted he never thought he’d become a politician. He was a young father of three who had been working since his teens in his family’s shoe store on Notre Dame Street when he became a petitioner at city hall in 1993. He and his neighbours were incensed that the city would not be putting up an outdoor rink in Snowdon’s MacDonald Park that winter.

Before being named to the executive committee in 2009, Applebaum was a real estate agent. Critics have questioned his lack of a professional background.

Applebaum told The CJN after becoming executive committee chair in April 2011 that having worked hard in business since his teens and the values he was raised with, rooted in Judaism, have put in him in good stead.

“I think if you are intelligent, can grasp the issues and have good people around you, that is what counts,” he said.

Applebaum said his religion has never been an issue in public life.

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