He calls himself Mez -- it could almost stand for man with the message -- and, to keep the alliteration going, right now he's sitting in the mezzanine of Metro Hall where in a few minutes he will co-chair a meeting of the Toronto Public Space Committee, which he founded five years ago to help combat, well, the mess that is municipal politics.
Visual clutter is Dave Meslin's beef of the day. It's what has him pounding an escalator handrail in a messianic show of rage.
"How can you negotiate with idiots? What do you say to idiots?"
It's a rhetorical question.
Because idiots aside, Mr. Meslin, 31, knows exactly what to say to anyone who will listen to him speak articulately, argumentatively on the role of the citizen in public life. His goal is to liberate people from apathy, show them the way to heightened political consciousness by urging them to get engaged, do for their city what they wish their city would do for them.
On this night, that wish is for the removal of advertising from "city furniture," the benches, bus shelters, bicycle racks, lampposts and information poles that constitute the shared assets of all urban dwellers. This has been his fight -- the fight against TV screens in subway stations, giant billboard trash bins, anti-postering bylaws, and anything else that threatens public space -- since he founded the TPSC.
But for the first time in half a decade, Mr. Meslin is ready to step back. "I can focus, finally," he says, "on something else."
That something else is Who Runs This Town?, which Mr. Meslin describes as a populist campaign to make this year's municipal elections "fun and relevant."
The elections are scheduled for Nov. 13, but Mr. Meslin doesn't believe in wasting time. He has launched a website, , that encourages Torontonians to join an existing political campaign or run for council themselves.
Its centrepiece is City Idol, a reality TV-inspired competition that allows would-be politicos to strut their political smarts in monthly public face-offs.
He hopes to attract 100 candidates to the contest. To date, it has netted 17, ranging from 18-year old Aruna Zehra Boodram of Scarborough, whose mayoral platform consists of a promise to "shake up the masses and get them involved," to 25-year old Chris Reid, an engineer who believes that "environmental policies should come first in city planning -- not last."
Contestants will not be expected to sing, Mr. Meslin jokes, but they will need to "make short speeches, participate in debates, improvise press conferences, answer audience questions and react to emergency situations."
The first face-off is scheduled for May. The grand prize is an actual election campaign.
"We'll help them run their campaign and that will include fundraising, Web design, building a platform, event organizing, public relations, public speaking workshops," he explains.
"The experience of voting for most people would be defined as choosing the candidate you dislike the least," Mr. Meslin says. "So I fantasize about an election where you have a series of inspiring people and you choose the one that inspired you the most and gives you the most hope."
As for running for mayor himself, Mez sez: "I think my energies are better spent getting people involved."
For a man who is a vehement player in the civic arena, Mr. Meslin carefully guards his private self, the quiet and reserved person inside the public persona of the raging bull.
His disregard for authority figures began early. He barely passed high school at Earl Haig Secondary School -- he felt good grades were only a convention with which to please teachers.
His talent for co-ordinating of human energies was also evident from a young age. "I would organize my fellow neighbours to do the craziest things, like pretend we were in the circus, and I'd have some kids hold hula-hoops and have others jump through them."
But his low grades kept him from running for student office when he was at school: "I wasn't allowed."
They also kept him from attending university. As a result, Mr. Meslin often says things like, "I don't read books," or "I don't know the meaning of that word, because I haven't studied."
But the word is iconoclast. When its meaning is explained to him, his blue eyes open even wider, he nods his head of light brown hair, a smile flickers across his lips.
"Oh yes, yes, sure."
He likes it better than the a-word.
"Labelling someone an activist gives other people an excuse to be apathetic. It's better that others were aware of their responsibility to be an engaged person rather than dividing the world into activists and non-activists."
But if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, . . .
"He's a powerhouse of activism," says Toronto Public Space Committee member Alison Gorbould.
"I considered myself an ex-activist when I met Mez. But he's got so much energy and he's such a strong personality that I got sucked in, re-energized. Now, I watch city council meetings surreptitiously at work."
Within council, for which he is a constant thorn, there is also some admiration. "I have a very high regard for him," says St. Paul's Councillor Joe Mihevc, who saw himself aligned with Mr. Meslin on the issue of large billboard trash bins. "He comes up with novel ideas that challenge our imagination about what the city could be. . . ."
But he acknowledges that like most creative people, Mr. Meslin can be intense. "He's an ideas guy and that doesn't mean all his ideas will fly."
At the recent Public Space meeting, Mr. Meslin takes the floor during an animated discussion over some of the finer points surrounding the city's intent to put ads on a new series of garbage cans.
With the aplomb that has made him both famous and feared in the city, he urges the participants to remember there is strength in numbers: "I say we focus on derailing the process entirely."
His remark instantly silences the room. The 18 twentysomethings and thirtysomethings gathered seem startled by such a radical suggestion.
They've been trying to find a compromise, but Mez has them suddenly open to his renegade stance.
"This isn't about the pros or cons of aesthetics," he says. "It's about selling off the streets. It's about who funds and who owns."
By the end of the meeting, the group has adopted his derailment idea as a means of protest against the growing visual cluttering of city streets.
He is so persuasive, he might, in the end, get his way.
But the next day, over a hot chocolate, Mr. Meslin says he was subdued at the meeting.
"You should have seen me six months ago," he says. "I could never have sat still like that, never have let people take turns giving their opinions."
It's a shift, he says, that will allow his baby, the Public Space Committee, to finally stand up on its own.