‘He got things done’: Kingston mourns the loss of former mayor Harvey Rosen

Harvey Rosen, who served as Mayor of Kingston from 2003 to 2010, died on Thursday at the age of 73.
Photo from 2003 election provided by Geoff Coons.

Former Kingston mayor Harvey Rosen passed away on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, at 73 years of age, following a courageous battle with throat cancer. News of Rosen’s death was shared in a statement issued by Kingston’s Beth Israel Synagogue late the same day: “We are saddened to inform the community of the death of Harvey Rosen, former President of the Beth Israel Congregation and Mayor of Kingston.” 

Rosen became Kingston’s 94th mayor and first-ever Jewish mayor when he was elected to the position in 2003, defeating then incumbent Isabel Turner. Rosen had previously served on the Council of the former Kingston Township, having been elected in 1994, before being elected to the Board of Control in 1997 for the newly amalgamated City of Kingston. 

“When I think about him and what he did for the city, it was basically a life project for him,” said Geoff Coons, Rosen’s former executive assistant. “He was born here, grew up on MacDonnell [Street], went to Winston Churchill Public School, KCVI (Kingston Collegiate & Vocational Institute), Queen’s Law… Needless to say, Kingston, from beginning to end, has been his life and his legacy. He always sought to make Kingston a better place for residents, businesses, and visitors.”

Before his career in politics, Rosen earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from York University in Toronto, then returned to his home town to study law at Queen’s University. In 1977, he was called to the Bar of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. He continued to practice law privately throughout the following two decades, before joining his family-owned firm, Rosen Corp. Ltd., in 2000. 

As mayor of Kingston, Rosen took a bold approach to governance, helping move the needle on a number of key infrastructure projects. Later nicknamed the “Group of 7,” such projects highligted the city’s commitment to important community priorities and included the revitalization of Market Square, the expansion of John Counter Boulevard, and the renovation of the Grand Theatre. 

An artist’s rendering of what is now the Leon’s Centre in Kingston’s downtown core. The venue was a key element of Harvey Rosen’s “Group of 7” projects. Image via the City of Kingston.

However, perhaps the most significant project throughout Rosen’s tenure was the construction of a Large Venue Entertainment Centre (LVEC), in order to provide a new home for the Kingston Frontenacs as well as a year-round venue for concerts and other events. When Rosen was first elected mayor in 2003, the LVEC featured prominently in his campaign platform. 

However, by 2006, Rosen faced significant pushback from critics, who worried about the cost of the arena and its somewhat controversial downtown location. Opposition to the LVEC spilled over into that year’s municipal campaign, as Rosen narrowly fended off a strong challenge by opponent Rick Downes, winning a second term as mayor by just 730 votes.

“As can be the case in Kingston,” noted Coons, “there were voices against and voices for. But one of the things [Rosen] did really well with that project specifically was [that] he had the mandate, he had the support of a majority in the community, he had a majority on Council, so despite the challenges to perhaps pause the project or not do it at all, he was committed to going forward and doing it.”

In terms of Rosen’s legacy as both a mayor and Kingston resident, Coons reflected on his years of community service. “He put his money where his mouth was. He worked hard to fulfill that desire he had to be a citizen and a leader, to make his home a better place… He got things done.” 

(L-R) Geoff Coons; Rosen’s wife, Sharon Monson; and Mayor Bryan Paterson unveil the official Mayor’s Portrait of Harvey Rosen. Photo via Mayor Bryan Paterson.

In 2010, Rosen decided not to seek re-election for mayor, closing out a lengthy career in municipal office. But Rosen did not leave politics entirely; he made two unsuccessful attempts to reach higher office. In 2010, he lost in his bid to replace Peter Milliken as the Liberal Party candidate in the 2011 federal election. Then, in 2013, Rosen sought the Liberal nomination in the 2014 Ontario provincial election, but lost to Sophie Kiwala.

Following the news of Rosen’s death, a number of local dignitaries took to social media to express their condolences. “Very saddened to learn of the passing of former Kingston mayor Harvey Rosen,” said current Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson. “It was just a week ago that I had the privilege to join his wife, Sharon, and other family and friends to unveil his official City Hall portrait. On behalf of the City he once led as mayor, I extend my deepest condolences to his family and to all those who knew him. He will be greatly missed.”

Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen reflected on Rosen’s long list of accomplishments. “Many of the incredible amenities we have today (Leon’s Centre, Invista Centre, widened John Counter Boulevard, and so much more) were as a result of his leadership. I was honoured to learn from him and follow in his footsteps when he chose not to run again in 2010. My thoughts are with his wife Sharon, sons Zachary and Tyler, and all family and friends that mourn his passing,” added Gerretsen. 

After leaving politics completely by the mid-2010s, Rosen enjoyed a quiet retirement before throat cancer largely forced him to remove himself from the public eye. He spent the last years of his life alongside his family. 

A funeral service for Harvey Rosen was held at Kingston’s Beth Israel Synagogue on Friday afternoon, Sept. 9, 2022, where a police escort from the Kingston Police Force led the funeral procession to the Beth Israel Cemetery on Sydenham Road. His memory will be esteemed by all of Kingston for his life of public service.

One thought on “‘He got things done’: Kingston mourns the loss of former mayor Harvey Rosen

  • Much gratitude for all Harvey Rosen did for Kingston as a real man of action.

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