it's becoming increasingly obvi-ous that the long and winding road of Mayor Mel Lastman's political career is fast coming to an end. The selection by city council this week of Shirley Hoy as chief administrative officer provides strong evidence that, for all intents and purposes, Lastman has packed it in and left the task of running the municipal corporation to his deputy, Case Ootes.
This is no knock on Shirley Hoy. The respected community services commissioner did a decent job filling in as CAO after Mike Garrett was paid $500,000 to walk away from the job last June because the mayor was convinced he couldn't chew gum and read a budget at the same time.
To now promote a veteran "insider" to be the city's top bureaucrat makes good sense -- even if it only helps prevent management morale from heading further into the sub-basement of City Hall. Hoy certainly has the credentials to create some semblance of calm out of the chaos that has enveloped the civil service.
All that said, Hoy wasn't Lastman's first choice. In fact, the eight-member task force charged with recommending to council who the new CAO should be was split down the middle between Hoy and Michael Fenn, the Ontario government's deputy minister of municipal affairs and housing.
According to reliable sources who attended the closed-door task force meeting last week, Fenn managed to win the mayor over with an excellent presentation that outlined strategies for how the city could get more financial support from the province.
"He had good ideas and he was very creative in the way he got them across," says one observer. "The mayor was clearly impressed. He said Fenn's presentation had changed his mind about supporting Shirley." Lastman admonished the task force to "give the guy a chance," this source says.
Councillor Betty Disero sided with the mayor. So did councillors Lorenzo Berardinetti and Mike Feldman. But councillors Brad Duguid, David Miller and Joe Pantalone took up Hoy's cause, leaving Case Ootes. "I thought Fenn had the job sewn up, since Case usually takes the mayor's side on personnel matters," says a source.
But Lastman's deputy shocked the room when he spoke out in favour of Hoy. The task force suddenly faced a voting deadlock. And that would mean the matter of the new CAO would go to council with no recommendation.
Afraid that their indecision would trigger an ugly battle on the council floor once 37 other voices jumped into the fray, Disero backed off Fenn and said she would vote for Hoy. To widespread surprise, Lastman announced that he, too, would rather switch than fight. The mayor asked that the task force recommendation be unanimous in its support for Hoy. And it was.
"There was a discussion where some people expressed their opinions, but at the end of the day there was one vote and that vote was unanimous," was all that Ootes would say publicly about the proceedings. But as these details of the supposedly confidential session began to leak out, both politicians and anxious staff began to ask serious questions about what's really going on over at 100 Queen West.
Asks one well-positioned councillor with serious concerns about the impression the CAO selection process left: "How is it that the mayor can bully council into creating a bureaucratic mess by showing Garrett the door, but then he just rolls over and plays dead rather than fight Case Ootes on behalf of the the person he wants for the job? It makes you wonder who's running the show around here these days."
"He's not into the job any more, and it's starting to show," says one councillor who's been close to the mayor.
Another long-time ward rep with a good handle on what's going on offers that "Mel gave up on Fenn so quickly because Mel's not the guy who's going to be working closely with the new CAO. This one was Case's call, and I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of those from now on."
There's no longer any doubt that Ootes is getting his ducks lined up for a run at mayoralty in 2003. He has already taken over the lion's share of Lastman's council duties, and more and more he's the guy on the podium at public functions. So it comes as a surprise to few that the deputy mayor would also start to be more hands-on with major administrative issues.
Ootes was once seen as only a potential caretaker mayor who could take over and finish the course if Lastman decided to call it quits after the current council term's midway point in June. But before he could play that role, the councillor for Ward 29 (Toronto-Danforth) would likely be asked to agree not to attempt to retain the post come the next municipal vote.
Then came news this week that another potential right-wing contender, former councillor Tom Jakobek, has been unceremoniously discharged from the executive ward at Toronto East General Hospital, where he was supposed to be undergoing image surgery to give a uniquely abrasive Beaches power-broker the aura of a compassionate and caring civic leader.
Suddenly, Ootes -- a once unremarkable politician from the tiny borough of East York -- figures he has a real shot at becoming the next mayor of Canada's biggest city, without any interim strings attached. So long as Lame Duck Lastman sticks around to clear the path for him.