Regular readers who know that this blog is based not far from Toronto, Canada may have wondered why I haven’t weighed in on all the controversy surrounding the city’s mayor, Rob Ford. What is there to say? We’ve watched the man’s reputation unravel moment by moment — mostly at his own hand — at the same time that vast numbers of people have said they would vote for him again, were an election held tomorrow.
The aspect that I find most distressing is that, in a city of more than 3 million, this was the best specimen they could come up with. Surely high school student council elections produce candidates with more apparent character and consistency. What the mayor is doing in seedy neighborhoods at all hours of the morning is anyone’s guess — allegations have to proven, after all — but shouldn’t the mayor of a large city spend his evenings at a symphony concert, or the opera or a charity ball?
But it wasn’t always this way. Enter William Holmes Howland, the city’s 25th mayor. To be completely fair, his time in office was not without its own issues, as Wikipedia notes:
During Howland’s first term he had much controversy. He was removed as mayor after personal finance problems made him transfer his assets to his wife. After that he didn’t have the property qualifications to be mayor. Another election was called and he went back to the nomination meeting after he had transferred his assets back to himself. There were no other candidates so he was again confirmed as mayor.
Many problems arose when he came back as Mayor. Senior officials were arrested for misuse of funds after a coal-supply scandal broke out and a street railway strike that was backed by Howland had the militia brought in after three days of rioting. His attempt to restrict liquor licences was also defeated by council.
However, the article also states,
…He was interested in improving the living conditions of the slum areas of the city… He turned to municipal politics to try to help the city with problems like drunkenness, slum conditions, filthy streets and to clean up the foul water supply… One good achievement was the appointment of an Inspector to the police department to fight vice and prostitution…
And then there’s the real reason I lift him up a study in contrasts, as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography chronicles his spiritual life:
…Howland made evangelical philanthropy his main work in life, so much so, in fact, that his business interests suffered considerably. He was the founder and first president of the Toronto Willard Tract Depository (an evangelical publishing company) in 1877 and of the International Christian Workers Association; a founder of the Prisoners’ Aid Association (an advocacy and penal reform group); superintendent of the Central Prison Mission School; chairman of the Ontario branch of the Dominion Alliance (a temperance association); and a worker in the Prison Gate Mission and Haven (a home for unwed mothers), in the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for women, in the Hillcrest Convalescent Hospital, and in the Toronto branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association. He was a noted Sunday-school teacher and frequent church speaker. His weekends and many evenings were devoted to bringing religious and temporal relief to the poor of St John’s Ward, for years the heart of poverty and vice in Toronto. Emphasizing prevention, he was the founding chairman of a training-school for delinquent boys, the Mimico Boys’ Industrial School (established in 1887 and later named Victoria Industrial School)…
…He distanced himself more and more from the Church of England and, with Blake, Henry O’Brien, Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski, and other like-minded evangelicals, founded in 1884 the Toronto Mission Union. This nondenominational inner-city mission was designed to reach the poor through programs of social assistance, medical services, relief aid, and mission work. The successful effort grew and became a church in its own right, at which point Howland combined forces with the Congregational minister John Salmon and a Canadian-born Presbyterian, the Reverend Albert Benjamin Simpson of New York City, to form the first Canadian chapter of the Christian Alliance. Howland was the founding president in 1889 of the chapter. The alliance subsequently became a major evangelical church in Canada and changed its name to the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
So his legacy includes what we now call The Christian and Missionary Alliance, which today, like the Salvation Army is both a Christian denomination and a mission; and what is now Tyndale University College and Seminary.
In the world of politics, character counts. While II Timothy 2:4 reminds Christ-followers that we belong to another kingdom — that we shouldn’t allow civic affairs to entangle us — there is obviously much that a person of faith can contribute to municipal (and state and federal) politics, and certainly even the most rabid secularist would agree that some moral compass ought to guide the leader of Canada’s largest city.