Toronto lawyer's mayoral campaign is heating up

This candidate is looking to become the city's youngest mayor ever

By Todd Harrison

On Wednesday June 23rd, 2010

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Most 31-year-old lawyers we know are focussed on a handful of goals: advancing at their firms, distinguishing themselves among their legal peers, finding that perfect house or condo, maybe starting a family.

Rocco Achampong has another ambition to add to that list: becoming mayor of Toronto.

A 2008 call and U of T law school grad January 2010 call and Osgoode Hall grad, Achampong maintains his own small practice focussing on corporate commercial litigation, plus a handful of criminal files, a family file and some entertainment-related clients. But a life in politics has long been his dream. “It was the very reason for my pursuing a legal career,” he says. “My role models have always shared the common distinction of being legally trained. Whether it be the philosophers of old, or the philosophers anew. And, not to mention, the role models one has in politics, be it Bob Rae, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Pierre Trudeau, John Diefenbaker, Bill Clinton, John Robarts, Bill Davis, John Tory etc…They all have law degrees.”

Achampong differs from these idols, however, in one important respect: they spent significant time in the private sector before seeking so high an office as head of the sixth-largest government in Canada. But he sees no reason to wait. “To borrow from Rabbi Hillel,” he says, “‘If not now, when?’ Most lawyers I know would have a ready quip to dismiss the Rabbi’s question, but it is one I take very seriously. I am yet to be hardened by the vagaries of life, self interest has yet to substitute itself as my governing ethic; my inclination to the public interest remains strong.”

That inclination was honed in the early 2000s, when Achampong was in undergrad at U of T. He served as founding president of the Black Students’ Association in 2001 and, the following year, was elected president of the university’s student government — a tenure the Varsity describes as “somewhat controversial albeit productive.” A Toronto Star profile reports that he volunteered for the John Tory campaign in 2003. “People like that you remember,” Tory told the Star.

Now, just two years out of law school, Achampong is aiming to become the youngest mayor in Toronto history. The Star article notes his frustration at the lack of attention the mainstream media has paid to his campaign, but things have recently improved — thanks, in part, to Better Ballots, an initiative seeking to improve diversity on City Council and in municipal election campaigns. Still, there’s a perception that candidates without extensive political experience may lack the resources and rich networks of the front-runners.

Achampong, however, won’t let that deter him. “When connections fail, rights prevail,” he says. “One, I think, must necessarily be initiated in the study of processes, review of said process, and be able to navigate the labyrinth that is the provincial-federal dynamic.” He notes that the City of Toronto Act provides the necessary power for the municipal government to negotiate with Ottawa.

But that’s not all he would have going for him as mayor. “I don’t think it’s great optics to beat up on young black man in the 21st century,” Achampong says. “I’ll get what I want.”