Mitchell Brownstein says he will be a full-time mayor of Côte St. Luc, and has scaled back his law practice to a couple of days a week.
“I am no longer seeing clients for the past two months,” he said in an interview.
Brownstein was proclaimed mayor of the West End suburb of 34,000 after no one else submitted a nomination by the March 11 deadline. He was sworn in on March 14.
He replaces Anthony Housefather, who had been mayor for 10 years. Housefather stepped down in November after being elected the Liberal MP for Mount Royal the month before. There are 19 months left in the mandate.
Housefather, along with all seven other Côte St. Luc’s city councillors, endorsed Brownstein’s candidacy.
At 55, Brownstein feels the time is right to focus on his municipal political career, as much as he has enjoyed legal work.
“It seems like the right time… It’s a nice change of lifestyle,” he said.
In a sense, Brownstein has been leading up to this point virtually all his adult life. He has lived in Côte St. Luc since age four and went to its public schools, Merton and Wagar, and was first elected to council in 1990.
He has overseen such major departments as public works and parks and recreation, and was a leader of the successful demerger movement that won the 2004 referendum to reconstitute the City of Côte St. Luc.
But the year Brownstein identifies as the one that set him on the course that has brought him to where he is today is 1984. He was manager of the Blossom Pool, a private facility with 500 members; he was president of the Young People’s Federation of Combined Jewish Appeal; and he was elected president of the Young Liberals of Mount Royal and worked on the first campaign of MP Sheila Finestone.
“This gave me the experience to work in politics and community,” said Brownstein, who helped Glenn Nashen, a current councillor, in his first council seat bid – which proved unsuccessful – in 1989.
The following year, Brownstein was encouraged by lawyer Eric Helfield, who was leaving, to replace him, partly because he felt it was a good idea to have another lawyer on council.
Brownstein and wife, Elaine, had just had the first of their three children, Andrew, and Brownstein was busy getting his law practice established, but the lure of working for the city he loved was strong. He won in District 7 and was re-elected six times.
Brownstein is one of two Jewish mayors in Quebec today, along with neighbour William Steinberg of Hampstead.
Côte St. Luc continues to be perceived as a Jewish city, and there is some truth to it – but Brownstein cautions against overstating it. He estimates the Jewish population is between 65 and 70 per cent, high but not the 90 per cent some people assume. “That’s been pretty stable over the years, although the population has grown from 22,000 when I was first on council to 34,000.”
It is true that the percentage of Jewish homeowners is higher, and all council members are Jewish today. That won’t change after April 10 when a byelection will be held to fill Brownstein’s vacated seat. The four candidates as of the March 11 deadline are Sidney Benizri, Mitchell Kujavsky, Lloyd Pedvis and David Tordjman.
Brownstein does not think it surprising that four people are vying for a seat with just over 1-1/2 years remaining in the term. “I remember when Joe Panunto won a seat in 1994, there were nine candidates,” Brownstein said.
He says it’s an indication of the level of interest residents take in the city’s affairs. “We have the highest turnout at council meetings of any municipality in Montreal,” and it’s one reason Côte St. Luc is regarded as one of the best run.
Brownstein is not supporting any of his would-be successors. “I have a reputation as a consensus builder… I will welcome whomever is elected as if they were part of the family.”
Another changing characteristic is the average age of residents. Côte St. Luc has been described as having the highest proportion of people over 65 in Quebec.
“The mean age is going down every year,” said Brownstein. “There’s been a big rejuvenation, with young families moving in.”
He is proud that Côte St. Luc is now home to four Jewish day schools, but also of the range of public and private institutions catering to the elderly.
One of Brownstein’s major aims is to maintain and enhance the many and varied programs and facilities enjoyed by all ages, even though this abundance has become a strain on the budget.
“I want Côte St. Luc to be a fun place to live… I want people to come home and have everything they possibly could to enjoy their day,” he affirmed. These amenities include the impressive library, sports and recreation centres, well-kept parks, the emergency medical service, V-Cops (a citizens’ patrol), the Côte St. Luc Dramatic Society (of which Brownstein is founder and producer), and the senior men’s club, to name some sources of pride.
Although some hours were cut, for example, at the Eleanor London library, famously open 365 lengthy days a year, Brownstein believes it may be possible to restore, without extra cost, a few of the weekly hours that were cut.