Friday, September 23, 2011 – Globe and Mail
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY
Hamilton — Julian Leonetti has a habit of acing his civics exams. But you could argue he has an unfair advantage.
Mr. Leonetti, 18, was raised immersed in a political milieu – tagging along to meetings and putting up signs for his mom, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
He remembers going from day care to Ms. Horwath’s office in Hamilton city hall, where she was a councillor.
“I would hang with her secretaries and meet all the politicians. … It was actually a really, really, really good environment to grow up in,” he says.
Mind you, he wasn’t so sure about that at the time.
“When I was there, I was bored as hell. But when I look back on it, every other kid was sitting at home, watching Arthur on TV. Those kids weren’t learning what I was learning.”
What he soaked up, from years of hanging out at rallies and community meetings, was an ability to read total strangers.
“You kind of gain an understanding of where people come from when you have a lot of people around you all the time,” he says. “So I find it easier to connect with people.”
He’s at home in the Hamilton townhouse he and his mom share with their dog, a Schnauzer-Wheaten terrier cross named Waffles (insert political joke here). As he often is, he’s home alone.
But unlike most teens left in charge of the house, Mr. Leonetti swears he never parties when he has the place to himself.
“Oh my god, I hate drunk kids. I hate people walking through my house, picking stuff up.”
In fairness, he’s underage and being questioned by a nosy reporter. But when your mom heads to Queen’s Park when you’re 12 years old, he says, “I had to grow up fast” – especially after Ms. Horwath separated from Ben Leonetti his dad and her partner of 25 years.
That meant learning to cook for himself, starting with soup and Kraft Dinner and working his way up to more ambitious fare. It meant doing the dishes on his own. But it also meant getting over the “separation anxiety,” as he puts it, that many of his friends still get when their parents are gone.
“I became my own person pretty fast.”
(In case you were wondering, he says his mom’s totally fine with him having long hair)
That’s not to say he doesn’t take an interest in what Ms. Horwath is doing. Years ago he learned to chart her political schedule by who was leaving messages for her.
He also takes credit for the slogan – “It’s time” – used in her first provincial campaign. “Oh, yeah. That was me. That was all right here,” he says, tapping his head.
And he knows firsthand how personally Ms. Horwath’s work affects her.
“On city council, if she’d be fighting the other city councillors, and not be able to do anything, she’d come home crying a lot,” he says. “It hasn’t happened lately – she’s really strong. But … when Jack Layton died, I woke up to crying that morning.”
This is Ms. Horwath’s first campaign in which her son isn’t taking an active role – largely because he has his own job, working part-time in a cafeteria at McMaster to save money for a trip he’s planning.
He had a chance to briefly check out her campaign bus. He thinks it’s cool, but was not a fan of its culinary offerings.
“I was waiting all day for lunch, then I got on that bus and they gave me some triangles with fish on it. And I hate fish. It was gross.”
Mr. Leonetti swears he has no plans to follow in her political footsteps – “ I could never be an elected official.”
Instead, the guitar-playing heavy metal aficionado hopes someday to study music recording at a college nearby.
For the record, though, he thinks his mom would make a good premier.
“She’d be in her complete element with that. She’d be surrounded by work all the time. She’d be stoked.”