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Biden picks former Montrealer Kamala Harris as choice for vice-president

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former vice-president Joe Biden has announced Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate in the 2020 election. They are seen in a July 2019 file photo.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former vice-president Joe Biden has announced Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate in the 2020 election. They are seen in a July 2019 file photo.
MONTRÉAL, Que. —

Could a former Montrealer be on her way to the White House?

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden selected California Senator Kamala Harris on Tuesday as his choice for U.S. vice-president in the Nov. 3 election. Harris, 55, is a former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.

The news did not go unnoticed in Montreal, where Harris spent a chunk of her early life. Mayor Valérie Plante offered her congratulations in a tweet, underlining Harris’s status as the first Black woman in U.S. history to be on a major party presidential ticket.

Born in Oakland, Calif., Harris moved to Montreal with her sister and mother at age 12, graduating from Westmount High School in 1981 before returning to the U.S. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer specialist, had moved to Montreal to perform research work at the Jewish General Hospital and teach at McGill University.

“I’m very proud of Kamala,” former classmate Hugh Kwok told the Montreal Gazette in a telephone interview Tuesday. “She was a special person, kind and thoughtful, always very interested in helping everyone.”

Harris’s 336-page memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, doesn’t shed much light on her Montreal years — devoting only two pages to that period of her life.

Upon arriving in Montreal, Harris and younger sister Maya attended the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges school on Côte-des-Neiges Rd. because their mother wanted them to learn French. The only French words the 12-year-old Harris knew when she first arrived came from her ballet class, the San Jose Mercury News reported in a May 2019 story .

As Harris wrote in her book: “I used to joke that I felt like a duck, because all day long at our new school I’d be saying, ‘Quoi? Quoi? Quoi?’ ”

Some observers, such as former Canadian diplomat and newspaper columnist Norman Spector, wonder what Harris really made of the experience.

“What we need to know now is what memories — good and/or bad — Kamala Harris harbours of Montréal, Québec and Canada having lived among us and having attended Westmount High School,” Spector wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

Kwok, who runs the Wingho Auto Classique dealership in Montreal, recalls Harris being a “very popular student” in high school. “She was very involved in the student association and many different clubs. She was very active.”

Kwok says Harris and himself were part of a group of 10 Westmount High students from the Class of 1981 who went on to study at U.S. universities after graduating.

While Harris attended Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, majoring in both political science and economics, Kwok went to the University of Michigan on a tennis scholarship. Though injuries prevented him from making it as a professional athlete, he says he never forgot the moral support his American friend provided.

“Kamala would see me carrying all my bags and she’d always have a supportive word for me,” he recalled. “She’d say: ‘Go for it Hugh!” That’s her character. She always encouraged me to stick with my dreams. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t keep in touch. I don’t follow politics, but you can bet I’ll be watching Nov. 3.”

ftomesco@postmedia.com

Reuters contributed to this report.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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