Jim Karygiannis is resigning as a Liberal MP and turning his sights on a bid for a seat on Toronto city council.
The resignation will create a second vacancy in Toronto, following Olivia Chow’s recent resignation as the NDP MP for Trinity-Spadina to run in the city’s mayoral race.
Mr. Karygiannis, a legendary political organizer, has been in the House of Commons since 1988, representing the voters of Scarborough-Agincourt for eight straight terms. The colourful politician now plans to run in the ward that overlaps much of the riding, saying that the move will allow him to spend more time with his wife and family.
Mr. Karygiannis – frequently called “Jimmy K” in political circles – was known as a bare-knuckle organizer with widespread support among Toronto’s various cultural communities. After his retirement speech in the House on Tuesday, he told reporters that he is not leaving federal politics because he is afraid of upcoming political fights.
“Anybody who wants to outrun me … you’ll be left behind,” he said.
Speaking to the Canadian Press, Mr. Karygiannis said it was a snowstorm in February, while he was driving from Toronto to Ottawa, that got him thinking about how much longer he wanted to make the weekly commute.
“I started on a Sunday night, around 8 o’clock, and I didn’t get there until about 3 [a.m.]. And I said, what am I doing?,” he recalled, worrying that one day he might “hit the ditch.”
Mr. Karygiannis’ father died last year, and he said he wants to be able to spend time with his 84-year-old mother and “sleep in my bed next to my wife” every night.
At the same time, he said he still has a “passion for politics.” Since the current councillor for his ward, Mike Del Grande, has decided not to seek re-election, running to succeed him seemed an ideal way to indulge that passion closer to home, Mr. Karygiannis said.
On his last day in the House of Commons, he recounted proudly how he had been an organizer for Jean Chrétien in the 1990 Liberal leadership race, calling himself “the last samurai in our party.”
He also pointed to a page on Wikipedia that describes him as “living legend within the Liberal Party due to his ruthlessness.”
Mr. Karygiannis was banned by the Ontario wing of the party from attending delegate selection meetings during the 1990 race, after he was accused of physically accosting a supporter of Paul Martin.
Mr. Karygiannis, who was organizing for Mr. Chrétien at the time, was also famously accused of putting chewing gum in the coin slots of pay phones to prevent Martin organizers from calling supporters who’d been suspiciously misinformed about the timing of a delegate meeting.
However, Mr. Karygiannis eventually became one of Chrétien’s severest critics and became an organizer for Mr. Martin’s camp during the 2003 leadership contest.
With a report from Canadian Press