Guess who wants to run the Plateau?

We spoke to nightlife impresario Zach Macklovitch about his candidacy in Montreal’s upcoming municipal election.


Zach Macklovitch

Last month, Saintwoods co-founder Zach Macklovitch made a move no one could have quite expected, when he announced he is running for mayor of Plateau-Mount-Royal under l’Equippe Denis Coderre. A former political science major at Concordia, the curator of cool looks forward to returning to his roots, while hoping to bring his entrepreneurial spirit to the table in order to elevate the beloved borough in a positive direction.

I caught up with Macklovitch at his sparse, open-concept condo to discuss his plans and policies he plans to bring forth if (or as he likes to say, “when”) he becomes Mayor. Right outside the building is his campaign poster, featuring the candidate in a signature plain white tee alongside Mayor Coderre. The outfit choice serves as an unapologetic testament to how he hopes to remain true to himself. After turning down the sultry sounds of Canadian-talent Daniel Caesar, whose new album Freudian he calls “incredible,” Zach wastes no time diving straight into important conversation:

Mr. Wavvy: Your announcement for mayoral candidacy, seems to come as a surprise to many. You talk about having had a conversation with Mayor Coderre that sparked your interest, how exactly did that go? What inspired you to run?

Zack Macklovitch: First of all, I’ve known Denis for a few years, since [Saintwoods] started working with the Mural Festival. We’re going on our fifth year of knowing each other, right when he got elected. We’ve always kept a really good rapport. Furthermore, I’ve always wanted to get into politics. I studied political science and philosophy at Concordia.

I definitely think it was earlier than I had expected to get involved, but at the same time, when you’re given that kind of opportunity in such a historic neighbourhood like the Plateau, it’s not something I’m really about to give up.

Denis hit me up and asked me to go for lunch. We were talking and he said, “Look, I think you could do a good job at this.” I took my time, it’s not like I just jumped into it.

I went away, I actually spoke to my cousins Dave (Dave 1 of Chromeo) and Alain (A-Trak) who are both big mentors for me. I asked them what they thought, both of them were really excited for the opportunity for me. Then I spoke to my business partners, Nate [Gannage] and Pat [Hétu], both of them were extremely supportive, my parents as well. I was talking to everyone important in my life, they were all like, “Man, give it a go!” So I did, and that was the start of it!

MW: Were there any specific points Mr. Coderre had mentioned as to why he thinks you’d make a good mayor?

ZM: I’ve been working with the SDBSL, which is the merchant’s association of Saint-Laurent, for four years. That’s been a big team effort but since I have gotten involved, we’ve managed to drop the vacancy rate on St-Laurent from 27 to 8 per cent, at least from Sherbrooke to Mont-Royal. We were able to save funds and make a bigger impact on things like the bistro lights, that was something that we introduced. I’ve been able to get my foot in the door and started working with community groups and merchant’s associations.

To answer your question, he was just like, “Look, you’ve been doing a good job on your street, I think you could bring that to the Plateau.” I’ve also had to deal with weird decisions and the weird plays done by the Ferrandez “organization,” for lack of a better term. They have a very strong hold on the Plateau’s city council at the moment, with all six seats as well as the mayorship. By doing that, it’s very hard to grow because in my opinion, they have a very specific anti-business, anti-global kind of mentality.

If you walk around and talk to the merchants and small business people living in the Plateau right now, they could tell you that there are lots of silly rules and bylaws. Rules aren’t meant to put people down, they’re meant to keep people safe. At the end of the day, your government should be empowering you. Right now, it seems that we’re always trying to find a reason to say no to things. Why aren’t we trying to find a reason to say yes?

That’s what I want to start doing, I want to work with people who are trying to make this neighbourhood and this city and find ways to make it happen. What could we change about the bylaws? What could we do better do make sure that you’re empowered as a business person, to make your community better? That’s something I kinda want to bring to the table.

MW: Would you say matters like this are the biggest problem in the Plateau right now?

ZM: Look, the more I’m getting involved, the more I realize we have a lot of problems in the Plateau. I think revitalizing our commercial arteries, whether it be St-Denis, whether it be St-Laurent, whether it be even supporting what’s going on in Mile End, which although strong, could use all the help it could get.

I think that starting to work with landlords, starting to develop a relationship between landlord and their tenants, both on the residential and commercial sides, in which they’re supporting their tenants and supporting the community that they’re making money off of is important.

I also think it’s about time that we actually make this a family friendly neighbourhood. I think the Ferrandez “organization” have been particularly archaic in the way they do things. They don’t play nice with others, to say the least. They always say they’re doing things to be pro-family or pro-community, but what are they really doing? My friends who have young families in the Plateau don’t feel supported by their government.

I grew up in the West Island in Pointe-Claire. Growing up there, you witness the kind of benefits a city can give by building both social and parks and recreations services. I worked for the city for like, seven years growing up. I saw what being a pro-family city was like, that’s not what we are here. I want to start bringing in actual programs that’ll make it fun to be a young person in the Plateau. We have amazing parks, let’s utilize them! Let’s get kids playing sports, let’s build a community, let’s make sure that every kid knows the other people on their street.

We announced today through l’Équipe Denis Coderre that we’re going to be investing and matching borough investments to support what are called “Green Alleys,” those are hot beds of community for young people. We need to really do things that are going to make it fun for young people to live here. Not just keeping it quiet, because I don’t think that’s the rule.

MW: I think that’s an angle you have such an advantage with. The average age range in Plateau-Mont-Royal is 25 to 34. Your experience and reputation among people of this demographic seems to be super beneficial.

ZM: I think it could be. If I’m going to win this election, I’ve got to get people to vote. Last election, Ferrandez won 50 per cent, that wasn’t his best showing. It’ll be important to get people excited about the beginning of November.

MW: Anything you’re particularly nervous about?

ZM: [Pauses] I think that as an entrepreneur, my tolerance for things like criticism or failure set me up pretty well for politics. That being said, I’m excited about these challenges. I’m excited for the opportunity to show people that not only myself, but the nightlife and entrepreneur communities that I’m a part of aren’t just a bunch of thugs who own bars. A lot of us are highly educated, a lot of us love what we do and just love being in hospitality. I think that we can bring a lot of the important points from work to benefit the city. I wouldn’t say I’m nervous about much, no.

MW: Can you expand on what skills you would like to bring from these entrepreneurial experiences to the borough at large?

ZM: You learn a lot. You learn that every dollar counts. Spending money isn’t a bad thing, just spend it the right way so that you’re not wasting money. I’m really excited to get involved not just with the Plateau, but with the whole Équipe Coderre and really look at some of the projects we have coming up to see how we can make them lean, mean, impactful, and I think that’s what we’ve got to do. Using the skills I’ve obtained as an independent entrepreneur my entire life, I think I can bring that into public office.

MW: Not to mention juggling so many things at once with relatively strong success rates.

ZM: I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, and I’m not naive to the fact that if I do win this election — when I win this election, [Laughs] I’m going to need to adjust my lifestyle a little bit. But I’m excited about that. I don’t plan on forfeiting any of my responsibilities at the bars or in any of my other businesses. I’m just going to work harder, and I’m very confident in my abilities to pull it off!

MW: With almost 70 per cent of the borough’s population identify French as their main language, how do you think being anglophone will play into everything?

ZM: I wouldn’t say I’m strong in French, but I’m getting stronger and practising a lot. I really firmly believe although Montreal’s a French city and I consider myself very much bilingual that people are starting to care more about what you say and less about what language you say it in. [People] know I’m trying to learn French, they know I’m respectful about their heritage and culture. I’m proud to be a Quebecer — I was born in Quebec, I went to a French elementary school, I consider myself very much a proud member of a bilingual community. If people aren’t going to vote for me because I was born English, then they were never going to vote for me, and that’s fine.

MW: It’s Quebec though, you get that here.

ZM: You get that and at the end of the day, if that’s the reason I lose, that’s the reason I lose. I can’t change the fact that I’m an anglophone and I’m not going to let myself be scared to run, or to get involved in politics, or to get involved in making a change in my city because I’m an anglophone. [The borough] has a lot of people who have moved here, whether it be for school or after. I think we need to start empowering our young people, regardless of whether they’re English or French.

MW: I feel like there might be certain prejudices people have towards you because of the culture surrounding the nightlife industry you’re so heavily involved with. Do you have any strategies of how you plan to avoid any “dirt” that may arise during your campaign?

ZM: I already got blasted by the French media because there was pot on my social media account. I’ve made it very clear to the entire Équipe Coderre as well as any constituents that I’m not planning on changing who I am at all.

MW: Such a strong example of that is having a white tee on in your posters.

ZM: That wasn’t just a stunt, I wear a white t-shirt 99 per cent of the time. I just want to be myself, I don’t think that to properly represent anything you need to be wearing a suit and tie. Same thing as the language question. I think that the general population just wants real people, and I’m happy to be that real person.

If I’m going to be criticized because I’m too casual, I’m going to be like, “Bring me to a meeting.” Maybe I’m in a t-shirt, but I will challenge you to ask me about the issues. I’ve done my homework, I’ve shown up, and I’m here to play, regardless of what outfit I have on. I’d rather wear a fancy t-shirt than an un-fancy suit anyways [Laughs].

MW: Aside from politics, what does Saintwoods have coming up?

ZM: Saintwoods has a lot of pokers in the fire right now. We’re looking to expand more across North America, things are looking very good. We’re coming out with a vodka that we’re very excited about. Ryan Playground’s coming out with her debut album through Last Gang/Secret Songs. We’ve really started to build on the agency side of our business with some really great brands, whether that be Hennessey or the work I’m doing with SSENSE.

I think that Saintwoods is a malleable little beast able to do a little bit of everything, we’re going to keep doing that.

MW: Wrapping up, any last words for the people?

ZM: I really just want people to know it’s not just me, I have an amazing team of six people running for city councillor and borough councillor positions. We’re running for city councillor positions that are absolutely incredible. I’m happy to give back to my community and get involved.

As somebody who studied political science and philosophy, getting involved in your policy, getting involved in your city and the people who are there and giving back is important. If I could do that, that’s great. I’m not afraid of the criticism. I’m not afraid of people saying, “Well, you’re a bar guy, you should stick to bars!” I don’t consider myself a “bar guy” — I consider myself a young, successful entrepreneur.

MW: If anything, you’ve built a brand around an essence of exclusivity that everyone wants to be a part of that was worked so well.

ZM: I want to be inclusive, that’s something that we’ve been trying to do at Saintwoods for a long time. If you’re trying to bring a positive energy, if you’re a nice person, you’re allowed to come to our parties. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, if you’re cool, just come to the party and be a part of the community.

That’s something that we need to start doing more of in politics: inviting young people to get involved, inviting some of those fringe elements, inviting people who maybe before felt like, “Politics is above me, I can’t get involved in that, I’m just a kid!” That’s not the case, a city is best run when everyone who lives in there is being well-represented and are given opportunities to voice their opinions and concerns. I’m really hoping I could do a good job of representing my constituents that way.

I didn’t step up to this challenge as a joke. This ain’t no publicity stunt! I’m here to get involved, I’m here to show people that we should and we can get involved in making our city better. I think that when young people in Le Plateau, in my opinion, one of the coolest boroughs in the entire world, are given the opportunity to make that city even cooler, I think they’ll step up. ■

Montreal’s municipal election takes place on Nov. 5.

A Town Hall event will take place Monday, Oct. 16, 8-8:30 p.m., and can be streamed live via l’Équipe du Plateau’s Facebook page.