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K-K went out on top

By Andrew Rampersaud

December 1, 2008

NOT QUITE THE FAMILY BUSINESS: Chris Korwin-Kuczynski realized early that his talent was not for his parents’ shoe business but for politics.
When former Parkdale-High Park city councillor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski came home from a council meeting in 2003 he wondered why he was still at city hall.

When he was first elected in May 1981 the plan was to stay on for no more than 15 years. He wound up hanging around for 22. Like an old shoe, he felt comfortable on council but realized he’d outgrown it.

“There are too many dynasties out there, politicians that want to be there for their whole life. I thought about other people in the community who might have their own vision,” said Korwin-Kuczynski during breakfast at one of his favourite Parkdale greasy spoons. “I guess it kind of hit me when this young lady came up to me and said ‘I’ve known you since I was a kid. You put on special events and everything and I can vote for you now and my parents have never voted municipally for anybody else because you’ve been here so long’ and I said to myself ‘Yeah, maybe too long.’ ”

Korwin-Kuczynski’s family was in the shoe business and owned a couple of stores, one of which, Richard’s Shoe Salon, is still on Roncesvalles Ave.

At 12-years-old Korwin-Kuczynski who also goes by “K-K”, got his start in politics when he worked for the late James Beecham Trotter the Parkdale Liberal MPP. At 17, he became the youngest special assistant to federal cabinet minister Stanley Haidasz, the first Minister of State for multiculturalism. It was then when he realized selling shoes was not the best fit.

A couple of years after graduating from York University with a degree in political science, Korwin-Kuczynski made it onto council at 28. He would then go on to work under four mayors, including a stint as deputy mayor.

In 1984, he was instrumental in creating the city’s New Year’s event at Nathan Phillips Square. The celebration helped catapult the career of the Barenaked Ladies when Korwin-Kuczynski vehemently opposed the city’s decision to take them off the bill in 1991.

While councillor, Korwin-Kuczynski gained a reputation not only as the “happy go-lucky guy on city council” but also as a harder-worker who could always be found walking the streets of the ward at any given time. When he campaigned he would visit “roughly 500 doors a day” and his office would be open “24 hours a day, seven days a week” where he would sometimes receive calls at 3 a.m.

Since leaving municipal politics he has become a mentor for Mark Grimes of Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore and an honourary captain with the Royal Canadian Navy.
Although he hasn’t been in the public eye for five years, his constituents rarely forget how hard he worked for them.

“People always say ‘We didn’t know what we had when we had it,’ ” he said. “I guess that made me feel good but at the same time it made me feel bad because this community deserves the best.”

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