She’s called herself “feisty,” “a tough cookie” and “a shit disturber.” Others have dubbed her “the devil” But for the title of her new autobiography, Sue-Ann Levy chose “Underdog: Confessions of a Right-Wing Gay Jewish Muckraker” (Signal Books).
Though less familiar to American audiences, Levy’s a legendary figure in Canada, where she’s a pull-no-punches investigative reporter for the Toronto Sun http://www.torontosun.com/. Proudly contrarian and almost exuberantly outspoken, Levy takes on the same targets in “Underdog” that’s she’s confronted throughout her career: anti-Semites, Israel bashers, the “lib left,” politicians of all stripes, and anyone she deems a hypocrite. Canadians either love her or love to hate her, as she notes herself; think Rachel Maddow meets Dennis Prager, or Ann Coulter with a brain.
Levy reveals another side in the book, though. She grew up in a traditional Jewish family in small-town Ontario; she survived two brutal physical assaults, suffered years in the closet and found salvation in journalism. Today, Levy lives with her wife, Denise Alexander, an interior decorator and event planner, in Toronto. “Underdog” is dedicated to her.
I mentioned to a Toronto friend that I’d be talking with you. She said she’d met you and was surprised that you weren’t “a monster.” Do you get that a lot?
I get that all the time — “You’re very different in person.” You have to be tough to get this job done. You have to be resolute to dig up the truth. You have to ask hard questions. I think that’s part of the reason I wrote the book. I wanted people to know what I’ve been through, what’s motivated me, the hurdles I’ve faced. The painful moments in my life have driven me to become a crusader and a champion of the underdog. I have a keen understanding of what one has to do to battle personal demons, rise up, and fight the system.
You’re fearless in exposing yourself in “Underdog,” from the assaults you endured to your battle with weight. How did that feel?
Scary. When I started my book leave three years ago, I wrote the hard chapters first. I didn’t sleep for nights. I’d written about the assaults, but not in this kind of detail. Even a few months ago, when I came back to edit and fine-tune these chapters, I’d get emotional. But it was also tremendously cathartic. The book wouldn’t have been as full without those revelations. And I hope they help others.
There’s an incident at the beginning of the book where a Hebrew-school teacher berates you in front of your classmates as an “outsider.” Did that affect your relationship to religion?
Not at all. But it did teach me I couldn’t trust people in positions of power. It was the start of my irreverence. I was smart, and got bored very easily in school. I was the bane of my teachers’ existence. And I was extremely outspoken by the time I got to high school.
The book’s subtitle is “Confessions of a Right-Wing Gay Jewish Muckraker”. Does one of those things define you most?
I can answer this way: I’ve been asked which of those it’s hardest to be in Toronto. I’d say right-wing first, Jewish second, gay last. The number of anti-Semitic people out there, and the volume of virulent and vitriolic e-mails I get, is appalling. But I’ve got strong ties to Israel, and I’m going to continue to be a champion.
From what I’ve seen, Toronto Jews seem to appreciate your positions on Israel, but sometimes push back on your broader political views. What’s your relationship with the community?
I think I’ve come to earn their respect. I’m one of the few journalists other than [my Toronto Sun colleague] Lorrie Goldstein who’s actually taken on issues that not many will write about —– [boycott, divestment and sanctions] or the rise of anti-Semitism on Toronto university campuses like York and Ryerson. It’s a shande [shame] what’s happening there. I outed the president of York for not handling the rise in anti-Semitism, and I continue to follow that story.
In the book, you’re harshly critical of the Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, an out lesbian, but you identify with the late mayor Rob Ford, whose views antagonized many. Can you explain?
I’m immensely proud that an out lesbian is premier of this province. We’ve come so far. But I’m not going to look the other way because she’s an out lesbian. I disagree with everything she’s done. She’s created this nanny state, regulating everything from the air we breathe to the electricity we use. It’s the opposite of everything I stand for. When I cover politics, it’s not about the personality, like some journalists. It’s the agenda and what it does to the little guy. How will it affect quality-of-life for people who pay taxes? Rob Ford did things like take away the personal-vehicle tax.
Would you go out on a limb and handicap the U.S. presidential election?
I think it’ll be a race down to the finish line. I see a lot of similarities between what’s happening there and what happened here with Rob Ford. Two nights before the election, I wrote that there were a lot of closet Ford voters — a silent majority. Indeed, it happened. This election is about what my wife calls “the evil of two lessers.” Hillary [Clinton] drives me crazy. I think she’s corrupt. I like [Donald] Trump’s outspokenness, but I understand the disenchantment with him. It’s too close to call right now.
Do you have plans for another book?
Certainly not while I’m working full time. But I have a few ideas in the hopper. And I’m seriously considering another run at politics. I’d stick with my party affiliation, though I’m disenchanted with the Conservatives in Ontario. I identify with their way of thinking, but the party itself is a disappointment. I don’t feel strongly that they can win the next election.
The impression you give in the book is total fearlessness. What scares you?
My wife scares me [laughs]. She is formidable, and very smart. She always keeps me very level-headed, and tells me, “Schmuck, take out the garbage!” I’m always afraid she’s one step ahead of me.
“Underdog” reveals so much about you. Can you tell us something that will surprise people?
[Laughs] I’m an absolute mushbag —- very emotional. I cry at the drop of a hat. I’m also a frustrated actress. In the book, I mention I used to rewrite and sing Broadway songs for my family. If I had my way, I’d be an actress on the Broadway stage, though I have no rhythm whatsoever. My wife says I’m a leftover from the vaudeville era. I remind her of Ethel Merman.