Marvin Rees - the wrong shoes, but the right man for mayor?
AS he looks out across the historic Bristol skyline, the new Labour party candidate for elected mayor has a pressing matter on his mind.
"Don't get my shoes in the picture," he tells the Post's photographer earnestly. "They're the wrong shoes."
The 40-year-old would-be city leader frowns momentarily at the comfy-looking leather leisure shoes.
"My wife brought my suit down, and she brought the wrong shoes," he explains.
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"What's wrong with them?" I ask.
But the 40-year-old just looks down at the offending footwear, lifts one trouser leg slightly to emphasise the point, and shrugs his shoulders.
"They're the wrong shoes."
Bristolians may be forgiven for wondering whether a man who is unable to organise his wardrobe, can reasonably be trusted with leading the city of out of recession.
But Marvin Rees believes he is the man for the job. In many ways he is the antithesis of the best-known candidate to come forward so far, George Ferguson – a man who has been wearing the wrong trousers for decades.
Rees grew up in Lawrence Weston and Easton through the recessions of the early 1980s, and the dark days of the St Paul's Riots.
His single mother worked hard on a low wage as a nursery attendant to make ends meet for Marvin and his sister. But he grew up believing that the "them and us" society was alive and well in Bristol.
"I don't want to tell you a sob story," the father-of-two says, as we chat over a socially-mobile cup of frothy coffee at the Arnolfini cafe.
"But we were raised in an area of significant social deprivation, we had very little money – although my mum worked hard, and my grandparents supported her tremendously.
"We were a tightly-knit family – a combination of Jamaican and Welsh heritage made us quite an international mix; a true Bristol family.
"But I grew up with a preoccupation for why some people were rich, while some people were poor. I didn't think of it in terms of social mobility in those days, but my politics were being formed even as a schoolboy at St George Secondary School – sitting there wondering why all the people around me were so hard-up, while people on the other side of the city all seemed so wealthy."
His heroes when he was growing up were local community workers, like Dennis Stinchcombe at the Broad Plain Boxing Club, where Marvin boxed as a teenager.
He says he was raised with a strong sense of morality, and a strong Christian ethic – he still considers himself to be a practising Christian today, and his faith has played a considerable role in his career development.
After managing to break free of his working class constraints, by studying for an economics and politics degree at Swansea, Marvin went on to work in the communications department of the Bristol-based Christian charity Tearfund.
"I did a lot of youth development work during my time with Tearfund," he explains. "And I think that later influenced me when I helped to set up the Bristol Leadership Project, a charity that encourages talented youngsters from challenging backgrounds to find a way to step up to the fore in society, without needing to have gone through the public school system and Oxbridge colleges."
Marvin, who currently works as part of an NHS team reviewing and reshaping Bristol's £50m mental health service contract, has recently returned from a period of study at one of America's great Ivy League universities, Yale, after receiving a Yale "World Fellowship" grant to study there. He's just turned down a similar invitation from Harvard in order to throw his hat in the ring for mayor.
"It was actually while I was at Yale that one of the professors there told me I should consider a mayoral role," he says. "Elected city mayors are so much more commonplace in American politics, and he felt I had the personality and drive to take on the role – that's really what put the idea into my head.
"I may not have had the political experience of the other Labour party candidates, but I have a clear agenda of bringing together the historical factions and organisations across the city, to work together for growth and improved social mobility for all."
It's a message that may leave Bristolians feeling it's not the shoes that matter, but the person wearing them.