not everyone believes mayor mel Lastman is a total idiot because he wandered over to the Holiday Inn on King West last weekend to shake hands with the Hell's Angels.Councillor Rob Ford, for one, thinks there just has to be some method to Lastman's madness.
"I'm sure he does it purposely," Ford said of the mayor's propensity for immersing himself in political hot water. "What else could it be? You can't be that dumb."
In spite of appearances (that is to say, that Lastman is that dumb and seemingly getting dumber all the time), there are other, more seasoned, city politicians who will privately agree with rookie Ford.
"With one handshake the mayor has diverted everyone's attention away from the MFP scandal that's been dogging city council for months now," offers one such veteran. "Nobody's talking about all the millions of dollars that were overspent leasing computers we didn't need. Nobody's talking about our budget problems or all the credibility we've lost because of our own mismanagement."The only thing people are focusing on is Mel and the Hell's Angels. It's brilliant."
As bizarre as that may sound, there is some history to support the argument. Lastman has been a keen practitioner of the art of political distraction ever since he began playing the role of chief magistrate in old North York three decades ago. But he really started showing off his stuff after he was elected to head the newly amalgamated city of Toronto in 1997.
Mel was going to be the good-time mayor. He'd be wild and crazy. He'd say silly things and make people laugh. Indeed, folks would be so damned busy laughing (between exclamations of "That Lastman! What a kidder!") that they wouldn't even notice what was really going on at City Hall. All of this came to pass, of course. But since the curtain went up on Lastman: Act II, what was originally an amusing exhibition of political burlesque (Moulin Stooge, if you like) has descended into the realm of the freak show.
Illicit affairs and abandoned illegitimate offspring. Visions of snakes and cannibals dancing around a big kettle of Potage du Melvin. Chronic absenteeism. Tax increase after tax increase and service cut after service cut while big bucks are inexplicably doled out to consultants with the right civic connections. After all this, Lastman doing the grip-and-grin with an outlaw biker and then racing home in the limo to show the wife the neat T-shirt the clever hog-jockey gave him are hardly surprising. The mayor's insane antics just don't faze people any more.
But what is getting up their noses are Lastman's increasingly pathetic attempts to talk himself out of the trouble he perpetually lands in -- all this stuff about wandering into the Holiday Inn to take a pee and being confronted by a bunch of scary Hell's Angels who chanted, "Hey Mel, Hey Mel" and made him so afraid that he couldn't pull his celebrity mitt out of harm's way.
Give it a rest, Your Washup. People have had enough. Mel being Mel isn't funny any more, and the audience isn't laughing. They've been overcome by embarrassment.
Long-time fundraisers critical to successful electoral campaigns are busy putting the word out that they're no longer prepared to make the corporate rounds on the mayor's behalf.
Key members of Lastman's City Hall staff -- increasingly maligned for failing to keep the boss on the straight and narrow -- are shopping around their resumés. They're hoping to land other employment before the mayor digs a hole so deep that they'll never get out with reputations intact. Working for Lastman was supposed to be an express ticket to bigger and better things down the road. But the assignment has become a millstone around quite a few professional necks. And grumbling about the sorry situation has now grown to a loud roar.
"The party's over," says councillor Kyle Rae. "For the next two years he's going to face a public that doesn't respect him. Everybody's just waiting for the next gaffe, the next faux pas."
Indeed, the city could probably raise a lot of money if it set up a lottery and let people wager on when Lastman will have his next encounter with self-basting controversy.
"As long as Mel's in the mayor's chair, the senior levels of government will continue to dismiss and disregard Toronto," Rae maintains."That's the bottom line. Nobody takes the city seriously any more. We're a joke. How long are we prepared to put up with people saying, "It's just Mel being Mel?' We can't move forward while he's there -- we need a real mayor. That's what I'm waiting for.'
He's not waiting alone.