Tom Martin: The fighter | The Coast Halifax

Tom Martin: The fighter

Meet your mayor candidate: The former street-tough cop says he's ready to go one more round to set the city straight.

Tom Martin: The fighter
Bianca Müller
Tom Martin: “I don’t have an off button.”

If you wanted the job back then, you had to fight for it. Police applicants in the '70s were brought down to the department's gymnasium and placed in a boxing ring with the largest opponent that could be found. The top brass would stand along the upper balcony, watching.

"You went toe-to-toe," says Tom Martin. "You had to be able to hold your own."

Three hundred candidates applied to the Halifax police force in 1977. Martin was one of only two chosen. After this election, it might end up being the second toughest job application he's been through.

As a mayoral candidate, he's an unknown compared to some of his competition. Martin's not as politically imposing as frontrunner Mike Savage. Nor is he as bombastic as his closest rival, Fred Connors. He freely admits to announcing his candidacy over a year ago solely because people weren't going to know who he was. Which is strange, because Tom Martin has been serving this city for over 30 years.

It was "baptism by fire" when Martin began his police career in 1978. His first patrol was the nightshift, walking Gottingen Street. The five-foot-nine, 150-pound cop, patrolling the beat dressed in his "silly hat," quickly learned how to deal with tense situations.

"You have to learn how to talk to people," he says of the days he still considers the best of his career. "At one point we had 60 bars, me and one other guy, that were our responsibility. We went from fight to fight, every night."

A transfer to homicide in 1990 took Martin off the streets, but didn't exactly keep him tucked away behind a desk. He speaks with a sombre tone about the many times he had to break the news of a loved one's death to family. Then there was his role as a senior crisis negotiator, which sometimes entailed crawling along the Macdonald Bridge in the middle of winter to talk down a potential suicide.

"I had one guy almost succeed in pulling me off, after talking to him for six hours," says Martin. "You're not doing it for a thank-you. There's just something about taking a very chaotic situation, like council, and bringing it to some sort of functioning resolution."

But not everything can be solved through discussion. Sometimes, you need to take action. Martin learned that when he joined the city's cold case unit, and saw his investigations shut down over and again by inexperienced supervisors. All while the Halifax's number of open murder cases grew.

"Fundamentally, morally it was just wrong. It was wrong what they did," he says.

So Martin spoke out. First to his supervisors, then to the press. Actions that didn't make him too popular with his bosses, but something he felt he had to do.

The stress from being police, and of living a life that was "too hard and too fast," would catch up to Martin in 2005. At age 49 he would suffer two heart attacks. In hindsight, he says it was fortunate to happen while he was still young enough to correct his lifestyle. "I look back on it almost as a blessing," he says. "One that caused me to change my entire way, how I was actually living. To start living healthy instead of living fast."

After retiring from the police department in 2008, Martin worked as national director for Source Security for a short time. He found himself wanting to move on from the law enforcement field, though. So, despite having grown up a city boy, he and his wife bought a farm in Dutch Settlement. They raise lamb and various game birds, selling the meat to a local butcher. It's been a peaceful change of pace for Martin, but he says something has been missing: public service.

"I don't have an off button. I really, truly don't," the longtime civil servant says. "Working with people. That is where we solve problems. That is where we create order out of chaos."

His first taste of politics came in 2008, when good friend Sheila Fougere asked Martin to run her mayoral campaign against Peter Kelly. He agreed, and quickly found himself neck-deep in the municipal political world. Fougere would ultimately lose that election by some 16,000 votes, which has seemingly caused a rift between the two former friends. She's recently endorsed Martin's opponent, Mike Savage, for mayor.

"I don't understand that, to be very honest with you," says Martin. "I'm not going to lie, I wasn't overly impressed with it. But, you know, Sheila makes her own decisions."

As does Tom Martin, and choosing to run for mayor has been the hardest decision he says he's ever faced. It was only when he was reminded by friends of the experiences and skills he's gained over the decades as a public servant that he decided to throw his hat in the race.

"It's not like I just fell off the turnip truck last night," he says. "I've been exposed to this city and the inner workings of this municipality for a long time. If you want to know the truth, I have more experience on the political scene on a municipal level than any other candidate. I've got more hours logged."

Running for mayor isn't something Martin thought he would do. But after watching council lose the public's trust again and again he feels something needs to change. He knows he can do better for Halifax, and offers his track record as evidence.

"Look at someone's experience, and ask this question, 'What have you done? What have you done for this municipality?'" he says. "And if you ask me that question, we're gonna be here for an awfully long time."

Tom Martin doesn't just think he's the best candidate for the job, he's once again willing to get in that ring and fight to prove it.

See our other mayoral candidate profiles:
Mike Savage
Fred Connors
Aaron Eisses
Steve Mackie
Robert (Wesley) McCormack