It was the last evening of the last meeting of the city council term, and Mayor Rob Ford was giving his usual rant.
"I'm not gonna rant," he said, before entering into a variation on his monthly spiel about why he believes it doesn't make sense to hire outside planners to assist the city with Ontario Municipal Board appeals.
The other members of council half-listened, some posing with each other for last-day-of-class photos while he spoke. Ford lost each of the subsequent votes 36-1; his brother Councillor Doug Ford had already left the meeting.
On this August 28 night, councillors were now eight items closer to closing the book on the wildest chapter in the history of the government, a period they knew would be rough but that often moved into the realm of the previously inconceivable.
In the final minutes of the last session of the preceding term of council (2006-2010), the members stood and applauded themselves and each other, a sense of accomplishment swelling in the room.
Last week when the meeting finally wrapped, there was no such release. Moments of gratitude had come earlier, in tributes to outgoing senior staff and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, but when council rose at the very end, it was with a mixture of relief and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here urgency.
For some, the experience of the term had been traumatic; for all, it had been exhausting.
It's difficult to remember now, but Rob Ford began his mayoral tenure with as firm a grip on council as anyone could have. Basking in a benefit of the doubt that had never been earned, the mayor and his brother created a sort of kingdom in their image. A clear majority of councillors fell in line with them out of deference and a desire for a slice of that power; public servants fell into line out of fear.
A friend working for a left-wing councillor compared it to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, in which the forlorn protagonists wander the blighted landscape of a realm overcome by the evil Lord Voldemort. How do you survive in a world in which you've already lost the war?
This was in some ways the opposite of what many council observers had expected. Nearly as surprising as the spectacular circumstances in which Ford ultimately bled away his power was the fact that he'd possessed it as long as he did.
Councillor Pam McConnell in the Star, August 2010: "It's inevitable. This man can't even convince five people to vote with him. So if disaster happens and voters are sucked into this tale, the other members of council will steer the ship."
Councillor Kyle Rae in the Sun, the same month: "In my opinion, if [Ford is elected mayor], city council will have a caucus meeting and they will choose their own mayor and [Ford] will be the mayor in name."
Jaye Robinson was first elected to council in 2010 after previously serving for over a decade as a manager in the city's culture division. Despite being a North Toronto centrist, she took a role on Ford's executive committee and became a member of his outer circle before finally, explosively, splitting with him in the spring of 2013 upon the initial news of the crack scandal.
Although she says she took the executive post to help "soften some of his objectives and his goals, which I thought were a bit harsh," she came to buy into his persecution-based mythology. Up until the crack scandal, "my impression was that the Star was picking on him a little bit." She credits his staff for doing "a great job in cloaking" his substance and behaviour issues.
Even though she recalls that he seldom showed up at City Hall, she hadn't witnessed any first-hand evidence of his problems and so had trouble believing the reports.
"I guess I was looking through rose-coloured glasses," she says. "You want the city to succeed, you want the city to be productive. And you know he [will be] in office for four years."
"Ironically," says Councillor John Parker, the term "worked out not a whole lot different than I would have expected, but not for the reasons I had in mind."
The Leaside representative, who endorsed Ford in the last election and served as his deputy speaker at council, says he figured the mayor "would not be a particularly significant factor in the agenda or in the business of council" but trusted that his advisers would be.
"We saw how that worked out," Parker says. "He had a strong staff to begin with, but one by one they were thrown overboard or they jumped for one reason or another."
He says the governance situation with Deputy Mayor Kelly was closer to what he'd expected from the Ford administration, and commends city staff for being the real setters of the agenda. The power dynamic he describes, with civil servants running the show against a backdrop of ineffectual politicians, more resembles the model of a school board than a municipal council.
"I think [retiring city manager] Joe Pennachetti's been running the city for the last four years. And he's been doing a good job of it."
The Ford era has brought to light that at the centre of municipal power, the overriding theme is one of powerlessness. From members of council to staff, activists, lobbyists and the media, democracy is less about exercising power than it is about the fear of not doing so.
Whether you're running the city or just trying to make a little dent in the fine print of an obscure policy, civic engagement involves contemplating the gap between the things you're doing and the even more substantial things you could be doing, if only you had the time or the resources or the talent or a more conducive political climate and a more cooperative bureaucracy. It's having the privilege to access a great force for good and feeling impotent in the face of its majesty.
Politics is an ongoing struggle in the creation of meaning. What can I do to make me feel less powerless in the world? That's the question driving all of us.
The last item of the last meeting was Restricted Access To Fire Hydrant Safety Hazard. It passed unanimously by a show of hands, the mayor's term-long insistence on recorded votes suddenly ceasing to carry any weight.
"Well, that was a quiet four years," said Councillor Josh Colle.
And they were off to campaign for their return.