'It always comes back to livability': Bradford seeks to bring urban planning perspective to mayor's race
Published Thursday, June 8, 2023 3:58PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, June 10, 2023 8:09AM EDT
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles on the seven leading contenders in Toronto’s mayoral race, according to polls. Additional profiles will be published in the coming days.
Less talk, more action, is Brad Bradford’s mayoral campaign slogan, and the 36-year-old Toronto city councillor certainly leads an action-filled life.
“I ride a lot of bikes. I used to race road bikes. I like to keep up with the fitness,” Bradford told CP24.com.
“I play on a beer league slow-pitch team in the east end. I play loose ends hockey at Ted Reeve; 10 p.m. Friday nights. I like to stay active.”
Bradford, a trained urban planner, says the reason he decided to enter politics in the first place was to bring more action to city hall, a place he says lacked accountability and was rife with inaction when he worked in the city’s chief planner’s office for three years.
“That was my first exposure to big bureaucracy, and it was my first exposure to all of the challenges that come with that; the divisional silos, the lack of accountability, this pervasive attitude that whatever doesn't get done today will get done tomorrow,” Bradford said.
“And I saw the politics on the floor of city council, at the time it was 44 councillors, so it was a lot of chaos. There was a lot of talk, but not a lot of action.”
Bradford was raised in Hamilton alongside two siblings by a single mother, Valerie, who he says worked hard to put food on the table.
After graduating with a degree in environmental studies from York University, he earned a master’s of arts in urban planning from the University of Waterloo.
Bradford then cut his teeth as a professional working as an urban planning consultant in Toronto. He says he worked on various transit projects and community master plans across the country, before moving to Boston, Massachusetts, and working for a non-profit in the renewable energy sector for three years.
In the fall of 2015, he returned to Toronto to work in the chief planner’s office under Jennifer Keesmaat, his old boss in the private sector. He stayed until running for council in 2018.
Bradford says that as an urban planner, he understands the challenges that Torontonians face, and says that if he were elected mayor, his focus would be on making the city as livable as possible.
“Whether [or not] people understand what urban planning is, they understand what the issues are, because they are the issues that confront us in our everyday lives,” he says.
“It’s affordability of housing, it's transit, it's getting around the city, it’s access to parks and recreation opportunities, and ultimately, it always comes back to livability; how livable is that community?”
A GENERATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
At 36, Bradford is the youngest of the candidates consistently polling in the top-seven in the mayoral race, and is father to two young daughters, one two-and-a-half-years-old, and the other born just days ago on June 5.
He says he understands the challenges that come with raising a family in the city, adding that as mayor, he would prioritize the needs of Toronto’s future generations.
“In the capacity as mayor, you think about what the city needs; affordability, access to housing, being able to get around and navigate the city, all of those things are through the lens of the people who are living here today, but also the people who will be here tomorrow and in the years ahead, and that's the next generation,” Bradford said.
“From a leadership perspective, I bring a generational perspective to this mayoral race that nobody else does. And I think that's important.”
Throughout his campaign, Bradford has embraced the use of social media in an effort to connect with younger voters.
It was through social media that he revealed the answer to a question many people had apparently been asking: “Why is your name Brad Bradford?” – A question his mother answered in a video posted to Twitter.
But Bradford’s use of social media has also come with some sharp criticism. Last month, Bradford released a compilation video of TikToks that featured women telling stories of instances when they felt unsafe on the TTC. Following the compilation, Bradford explained some of the ways he would improve TTC safety if he were elected mayor.
A number of Twitter users accused Bradford of leveraging the women’s stories to further his campaign, and doing so without their consent, however Bradford says he stands by the video.
“We’re literally using TikTok exactly how the app is intended to be used,” Bradford said.
“The stitch feature is literally about creating new content with existing content on the platform, and everybody has the opportunity to opt out of that, not just in terms of your profile in its entirety but individual videos. And for me, I want to share those stories because you've shared those stories, I’m vying for a position in the city, your story resonates with me, I hear it, and this is what I'm going to do to solve it.”
“I DON’T THINK THEY WERE PREPARED FOR HOW HARD I WAS GOING TO WORK”
As a newcomer to municipal politics, Bradford says he’s used to beating the odds against older, more established candidates – which is the challenge he now faces with less than three weeks remaining in the mayoral race.
When he was first elected in 2018, he ran against former NDP MP Matthew Kellway, who Bradford said had all the advantages.
It should be noted that Bradford, however, did have the endorsement of a popular incumbent mayor in that race.
“He (Kellway) had all the lists, all the resources, all the donations, all of the volunteers, every advantage going for him, but I don't think they were prepared for how hard I was going to work out there,” Bradford said.
“So I took a five month unpaid leave of absence. We were pretty broke. But I went to every door in the riding; 50,000 doors, and on election night, 37,000 votes were cast and I won by 288.”
Since joining council, Bradford says the thing he’s most proud of is the construction of 59 supportive housing units in his riding during his second term as councillor and chair of the planning and housing committee.
“Building those 59 supportive housing units in East York certainly was one of the most challenging things I've done in my short career in politics. It was met with tremendous opposition from the community; a lot of stigmatization,” Bradford said.
“But I was always very clear: this is a housing site. We can't have people living in parks, they need to have the dignity of a roof over their head. Unequivocally, this was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing is not always easy. That comes down to strong leadership, and I think that's what the city needs right now.”
Toronto neighbourhood you call home: East Danforth
Toronto hidden gem: The Kilt and Harp on the Danforth
Favourite Toronto bite: Impossible to pick just one specific food - but I’m a big fan of all the great combos of fusion cuisine that you won’t find anywhere outside of this city
Favourite Toronto event or festival: Joined Baycrest’s Bike for Brain Health again this June. Love to be out on a ride for a good cause
The Beach or Beaches: The Beach
First job: I was a caddy in high school - even though I don’t play golf
Favourite song: Anything by the Red Hot Chili Peppers