A close-up of the joyful giant whose life job is to be Mayor of Montreal
LESLIE M. ROBERTS
A TALL, gangling man waved his arms in the gestures of ground-and-lofty oratory.
“If you are out of a job and hungry, what will happen to you?” he asked the crowded hall. “I will tell you. If my opponent is elected and you go to his house, you will see a butler in uniform who will ask foryour card. You have no card, but you tell the butler your name and why you want to see the Mayor. He tells you that the Mayor is dining with friends and cannot be bothered like this!”
The gangling Desmosthenes pauses, drains a tumbler of water, assumes a confidential pose, and continues:
“But when I am Mayor and you want a job, you come to my house. I answer the door myself. I have no butler. We sit down together and smoke. You tell me what you want, and voilai It is arranged! If I am not at home you are greeted by my wife, who understands your difficulties because she married a workingman. She brings them to me when I come home to sleep. And Madame Martin, she never travels!”
Thus His Worship Mederic Martin in 1914, as he crashed the gate of his opponent’s hall, clambering up platforms paid for with the good, hard cash of another man’s campaign fund, running away with meetings summoned to extol the high qualities of Major George Washington Stephens, son of a house revered in Montreal, seeking his native city’s highest office that he might work for the city’s good; a candidate with every newspaper at his back, an enthusiastic organization—and no dollar-worries.
But Mederic, in rough-shod glee, rode away with the election, hoisting himself bodily to the First Citizen’s chair from the platforms of his opponents, spending his nights in flights of. oratory that followed one-gran.--raids on the -halls—jwfeere-hw“
Opponent 'or friendly—and sometimes hostile—aldçrmanic candidates were spending good in o nëy~F€H‘~&..-ehanee-ted isp 1 a y the wares
Sor e wag of the day nicknamed him ‘The Cuckoo’, but the term had not yet aequi'ed its meaning as a synonym for goofy, bughouse and batty, nor was it the nom e guerre of the ordinarily insane. The cuckc o, it appears, is a little bird blest with a nesjt-robbing complex. And that was Mede-ic Martin, crashing the City Hall gate ity happy, pre-war 1914.
He still boasts that it costs next to nothing to be elected—providing a fellow knows his way about and keeps an eye on his opponents speaking-dates.
You can’t keep a good man down.
Early in 1914, when Martin modestly predicted that he would be Montreal’s next mayor, the politically sapient emitted vulgar guffaws. And, while the solons laughed, the haute monde sniffed upturned nostril at the picture of a rollicking cigar-maker turned demagogue, and sniffing, inquired “Who is this fellow, Martin?”
But, as nomination day dawned, the great, cumbersome ‘Vox Pop’, which does the bulk of the mayor-choosing in any city, was cheering Mederic on as he strode like a joyful giant through the aisles of other peoples’ meetings,mounting their platforms to capture the masses with his wit, his satire, his rapier thrusts and his pathos.
At the City Hall, as nominations closed, his opponent, with graceful gesture urged that Mr. Martin be given first chance to air his views. Mederic bowed, but declined the offer with sweeping thanks. Major Stephens, therefore, in well-turned phrase, remarked that he deemed it high honor to be nominated a candidate for mayor of his native city.
“I am delighted that my opponent feels honored by the nomination,” cried the barnstorming orator in high glee, “for nomination is the only honor he will get!” ’
They elected Mederic again in 1916. In 1918 he was chosen for his third term. He repeated his victories in 1920 and in October of 1921. Then, in 1924, the mayoral crhäfmt shed a~wKfeel, and Mederîc marched into the wilderness, but not before he had announced that he was going out to
start his campaign for election in 1926. In two years he was back. He will remain forever, say his friends. His enemies surlily agree.
To his public, Mederic Martin is Olympus, cr at least Thor, the God of Thunder. He never explains. The only time that he tried explanation as a pursuit, it cost him his Job for two years. So he donned his cavalier tunic again and went about flailing the Roundheads with his twcedged sword of wit and savage attack. Mederic had learned his lesson.
His strength lies in his personality, net in policies. He is the Great Individualist, pcssibly the greatest that Canada has reared of late. He rides alone, and he rides rough-shod, letting the devil take the hincmcst, but being very careful that the hindmost is not represented by a gentleman rejoicing in the name of Martin.
By all the odds Martin faced the electorate as a first-class political corpse in 1924. There was a tidal wave billowing through the Island of Montreal in those days that boded ill for Mederic. Liberalism, for the nonce, was unpopular in its greatest stronghold. The liberal electorate was swinging across the fence, where the colorful figure of E. L. Fatenaude wooed and won the mass-mind, as gaily he hurled grenade and bomb into the serried hosts of the Taschereau party. Mederic went on the stump. Patenaude drew him on. And, one peaceful Sunday afternoon, in the political hotbed of St. Laurent, he flayed the Mayor as no man had done before, nor has since, tearing off his skin, strip by strip, and leaving him for dead by the roadside.
It was the habit of the Mayor’s friends to lead the throng into the stirring swing of ‘Il a gagne ses epaulettes1.’ when Mederic mounted the platform. But the effort that day fell flat. Instead, the crowd, which packed the college hall, chanted the ‘Bead March’ as Martin arose.
The handwriting was on the W'all of the mayoral chicken-rocst.
Some years before, Martin had gained the greatest victory of his career as the result of fulmination against a ‘deal’ involving several million dollars which, he proclaimed, was corrupt. Corrupt, in fact, was the mildest term evoked by the Mayor in a driving campaign from Point St. Charles to Mile End and from St. Henri to the depths of the East. ‘Return me to the City Hall and I will drive the moneychangers from the temple!’ was the battlecry that had swept him into office again on the crest of a wave of ballots. Then the crescendo died away.
But, six years later, it revived, and Mederic was not the man to institute the reviving. Twice in the interregnum, he had been re-elected. Then, of a sudden, Montreal asked ‘What became of the money changers?’
They asked Mederic. They asked him from the hustings. They asked him in editorials, in songs and in newspaper cartoons. They asked so insistently that the Patenaude candidate, Duquette, romped into the City Hall while Mederic went his way.
But, to-day, Patenaude is gone from public life, for the time at least, and Duquette’s name is forgotten except in the worlds of insurance and philanthropic effort. And Mederic is again mayor of Montreal. He laughs, spreading his hands, palms up and shaking his iron gray mane. “You can’t keep a good man down!” his eyes twinkle merrily.
During the federal campaign of 1925, a monster demonstration was held at the Ferum in Montreal, the then and now Prime Minister being the principal lion of the evening. But at twenty minutes past eight, when the electorate was hanging perilously from the I-beams and jamming the big rink to the rafters, a peculiar thing happened. It started as a murmur, deep in the back of the auditorium. Gradually the murmur swelled. Soon it became a roar of “Mederic! Mederic! Mederic!” as dowm the aisle swept the frockcoated figure of what was then generally considered Montreal’s deadest political corpse. “Med-
Mederic! Mederic!” The huge crowd roared its greeting until the roof cracked! On strode the debonair dead naan, bowing, smiling, waving in greeting to the people who, a few short months before had chased him into the political wilderness. You can’t keep a good man down!
The fellow on my right nudged me. “There goes the next mayor of Montreal, damn his eyes!” he growled. He «.as right. You can’t keep a good man down! His long strides sang the song as they swung him down the aisle.
The Common Touch
THE answer lies in the fact that Mederic, instinctively, has the common touch. The mass mind is his mind. He reads the emotions of the man-in-the-street. He never forgets for a moment that the electorate is composed of nine parts artisans, mill workers, motormen, conductors, truck drivers, postmen, mechanics and milkmen. And before them he stands as a romantic figure, as one of themselves who has made his mark, but who remains one of them.
He may wear a silk hat, but he remains a union man. Under his official robes he is still the cigar-maker. Lights were meant to be seen, and the front page is the page everyone sees on the news stands.
In the face of such a barrage, the intelligentsia can shoot their pop-guns as they will.
To the huge, bulging mass-vote the achievements of Mederic have become a saga. He is the living example of the fairy-tale of the humble boy who grew to walk with the mighty.
To them he is always the humble boy, the artisan, the cigar-maker.
But to Mederic the fanfare is angels’-food and the visas of the crowd nectar. When the Queen of Rumania came to Montreal it was the Mayor who greeted her as she stepped from her train. Mederic who rode beside her in state through the city streets, His Worship whose topper dipped and dipped as the populace hurrahed them on their way. From the City Hall to the pavement red carpet streaked the stairs and awnings sheltered Greatness from the vulgar gaze as the city’s beauty and political chivalry gathered to offer homage.
Cameras clicked. The news-reel men ground their handles, shooting miles of celluloid of thej^
Mayor and Royalty. Mederic, in the centre of every group, was a happy schoolboy glutting himself with lollipops of acclaim. Beside hi basked Marie in his reflected glory. Tha an easy two-to-one point of view of ceeding3.
"Aha! Aha!" chortled the wiseacres, in gli “it's going to his head! Wait till the boys do in St. Mary’s get him on the hustings a remind him of this! This'll kill him!”
Not Mederic Martin! Tell His Worst that and he will take the platform to expou the view that it is best, by far, to have a Son the People to do the job right, to enterta the public’s guests for the public, as t public would have them entertained: bett a Mederic as the city’s Interlocutor than to spirited away to some mansion on the mou hidden from the great ‘pleb’ mass which fo yd. therefore, should he entitled to a front se; je might remark, knows his electoral onions!
So, when the Prince of Wales paid Montre 19, the Heir to the Throne and His WorshWsp otlight, fifty-fifty. There were a lot of Butterings the dignified on that occasion, amjbne even rd it said that Mederic was a jackass ad^^pcpUÉH «grace. But the people who called the dirty names were anding on the sidewalk to have a look at the Prince, 'Íe Mederic was riding in the same carriage! And ‘E.P.’ fould venture, was enjoying Mederic^t least as much Mederic enjoyed ‘E.P.’ Lese mojeste though it may be, »t charming young man could not have ventured down 0 the jungles of the mayoral bailiwick in the hands of a ter sponsor than Mederic the Great. Many of them, I t, considered His Royal Highness fortunate indeed to
Î riding the streets in such good company. The Mayor’s wd can be taken for it that he and the Prince of Wales e buddies of the first water. In fact Mederic cables him ontreal'3 felicitations every now and then, being sure tç give verbatim copies of the cable to the public prints. Generally they make the front page.
' Whether he be riding the streets with the heir to the British Throne, or driving at the side of a charming alien cctieen, it is always Election Day to the Mayor of Montreal. As he marches along Sherbrooke Street in the van of the St. Jean Baptiste parade his thoughts would turn ballot-boxes and his mind’s eye would be vote-counting ough the crowds along the routfc-Qf march. When he this proviîrcIâlpânHiHâîëa^tfnbirlfci ôr for tEat-fedoiel nominee, it is the Mayor of Montreal exhorts the multitude, still the Mederic who lets
the other fellow hire the hall while he takes the meeting home in his pocket.
One gathers that this Mederic Martin is a doubly adjectival buffoon, an adjectival buffoon or merely a buffoon, the comparatives depending largely on the class of company selected by the denouncer for the airing of his opinion. But the practice grows more rare. To-day many of those whose delight it was to think up new ones to hurl in the direction of the absent Mederic, waggle their heads sagely and link his name with that of the fox, which if we may accept the word of the late Mr. Aesop, was a lively animal of high cunning.
No Putty Man is Mederic
UFFOON was never a name to apply to the Mayor of Montreal in Perpetuity. No putty man this Mederic. If, at times, the surface resembles putty, then there are
off long enough to show the iron.
Thus, when the more-or-less famous water deal came bedojjfl, fathers for_j|¿j^id|Mgition__lg
clamoring for investigation rs were shrieking from the
vvinter, high. Many aldermen wé. before purchase. Newspa housetops. Semi-public J policy. Hardly an hour spirited citizen or organiza
lies were urging a go-slow Issed in which some public on didn’t hurl a new caveat
in the front door of the ( ty Hall. But His Worship shrugged his shoulders and ianged his gavel.
To Mederic the water de 1 spelled one thing, and only one thing; cheaper water n the working class wards served by the Montreal ;er and Power Company. So he plumped forit. And whe Mederic plumps, he plumps. When others were running lor the cover of strategic positions Mederic was sittingfon the lid. The water deal passed through the counci. Perhaps the city paid too much. Perhaps not. That remains to be decided.
But there was no doutrt as to where the Mayor of Montreal stood that day, mor why. Mederic saw cheaper water for the working mán and cheaper water for the working man means vote®or the working man’s mayor. Let who will shout poorjpusiness is the
most charitable remSr'" ““ " *“ — - — -water-deai-— b HUrriiy uno tion eye. “ ' — Under the mayoral tur
loves the working man. A vote-catcher, yes. He can b called tub-thumper, opportunist, mob-exploiter or any one of a dozen names to match. But he is a working man’s man. Mederic will never appeal to the business executive, to the clubman, the property-holder, nor to the man who likes to think that public affairs are conducted with something resembling decorum. But the Mayor remembers that the balance of power on election day is not in the hands of business executives, clubmen, property owners, nor the Upholders of Decorum. And every day is election day in the Martin family. And no day more so than Labor Day. Watch him as he follows the mounted marshal in a Labor Day parade. There goes Mederic, the common man. No motor or carriage for him, nothing, save frock coat and silk hat, to set him apart from his fellows. His slow, difficult smile on his sallow Norman face, he marches sturdily ahead, with a little intimate nod for the cheers which ring out as he passes. The man standing beside you nudges you delightedly in the side and points out his idol with a sharp, dramatic gesture. As he points he chuckles. “A fellow, that Mederic, hein?” Small wonder, for here is the workers’ Mederic. A mayor? Ah, yes, but, also, one who has in his day made cigars of a goodness, which were afterwards packed in a box bearing the union label! See how the long, blue tassel of the banner, bearing the device of Cigar Makers’ Local, Number Ten, Montreal, ever and anon democratically flicks the mayoral cheek. More cheers. A worker for the workers, this Mederic, n’est ce pas? Ah, Mederic, Mederic, truly you know your people!
The Mayor developed his flair for the spotlight soon after he left the cool shades of St. Eustache College. In his thirties he was sitting at Ottawa for the St.. Mary’s division of Montreal, which he carried three times as a Liberal. The city council saw much of him as a desk-pounding young alderman. Always the region of St. Mary’s, in the heart of Montreal’s industrial east end, has been his political haven, and, as Mayor, he remains St. Mary’s favorite son, an opinion backed in the polling booths whenever opportunity affords.
His father, Solomon Martin, was a cigarmaker in a small way. Mederic, in his youth, practised the calling. It stands him in good ead to-day as a background of never-failing jf^eal to the working class vote. In addition is job at the City Hall, Mederic occupies a chair in the Red Chamber at Quebec îëfRlative councillor, an appointment nade in 1919 in the closing days of the Gouin ministry.
Mederic maintains a simple habitat in the heart of the teeming east end of Montreal, on Logan Street, a house whose only pretence to ostentation is found in the twin light standards at its portal, proclaiming to the world that here is to be found the mayoral hat-rack.
At Laval-des-Rapides he maintains a summer home, which, to be Irish, he occupies most of the year.
;se at Laval, once upon a time, very nearly Mayor a cropper, for it acted as the leverage seating proceedings that loomed black for His r some weeks. The Logan Street house, cried , was a blind. LhVUI WHS lllyrtíUl hume. Luga^ said, was occupied by a tenant, and Mederi* g the charter by living outside the city limits^ 1 he entertains his friends. To Laval h^ ■Prince of Wales, and there, in the blazing red bulbs on his verandas and in his garder proffered à highly ornate, hand-carved box, containir cigars of rarest vintage. Graciously the Prince accepteq Graciously His Worship bowed. And, thirty days late when the Prince had gone his way, the city fathers we# requested to come across like good little boys and p£ for the tobacco. There was some pointed criticism of Worship.
“What!” he thundered, “shall it be said of Montreal that we are so paltry, so low, that this great city’s chi|f executive cannot offer a small present to his Prince?”
The city fathers paid the shot. The story lives in tlj council records, where all who explore may read.
You can’t keep a good man down!
He plays golf at aristocratic Laval-sur-le-lac, and pa; dues to the International Union of Cigar-makers, hobnobs with bankers and attends the meetings of t Société des Artisans. But he is neither Jekyll, nor Hyc 5. He is Mederic; Mederic the Great; the Friend of t íe Workingman, who finds jobs for the down-at-heel wh they have votes, and often, I trow, when they havenjt; the most amazing man in Montreal: Mederic the Pje-
ins to face the cameras of the day HBTeryJDay is Election Day!’ You oftn’t lioep-a goad mau duwnt~