Photo by Cheol Joon Baek
His latest and most resounding defeat was about to be handed to Rob Ford on Monday, March 5.
On the floor of the council chamber, the mood was strangely upbeat while staffers in the clerk's department, ensconced somewhere behind the scenes, counted the votes determining who would sit on a reconstituted board of the TTC. Even members of the mayor's inner circle took part in the laughing and kibitzing. I half-expected party balloons to fall from the ceiling.
Amidst it all, Ford sat forlornly, staring into space with that indifferent look of an iguana he acquires in trying moments like these, flicking his tongue periodically between intakes of air.
By the time the votes were counted, council had replaced the Fordists who weeks before voted to fire former TTC chief general manager Gary Webster in a bloody coup aimed at saving Ford's subway to nowhere, replacing them with seven new councillors, with Karen Stintz again at the helm as chair. There would be no press conference later for the mayor to offer his official response.
Talk about an ass-kicking. Who could have imagined this scene a year ago, when everything Rob Ford touched turned to gold?
Call it payback. Some of the mayor's supporters used the word "vindictiveness." Fordists shouldn't talk, though, given all the guts their not-so-humble leader has splattered in attempting to crush those who've dared stand in his way.
The usual suspects among them tried to rewrite history on the Webster front, equating their plot to off him with the departure of the two other TTC general managers who preceded him. They didn't have their heads lopped off for offering their professional opinion.
Some Ford friendlies in the City Hall press corps cast Stintz in the role of "rogue," "rebel" or "backstabber," subtly laying at least some of the blame at her feet for the upheaval of the last six weeks on the transit file.
Not to say this is about gender politics, but for all the testosterone swagger of Ford's wild bunch now accusing Stintz of sleeping with the communists, er, enemy, not one of that crew had the balls, I mean courage, to take on Ford when it became clear weeks ago there was no private money to fund his harebrained subway scheme.
While some councillors say all the infighting isn't good for the business of the city, taking valuable time and energy away from other issues, it's Ford who declared war. Monday he was lobbying like a bat out of hell, promising everything under the sun to councillors to stop Stintz.
The conflict over transit is not rooted in the petty politics of left-versus-right left over from the Miller years. Stintz is no Millerista. This is about council finally getting its act together on the transit file.
As John Parker noted in supporting Stintz's motion to remake the TTC board: "We couldn't sit back and wait three months for the other shoe to fall off." By that he meant give the province an excuse not to fund the light rail transit projects already approved and reconfirmed by council February 8.
Those who want to turn the debate into one about "politics" are missing the larger point: that transit is a vehicle for social inclusion and economic development. It can't be messed with, made into a political football by Ford so he can win re-election.
In the Ford-versus-Stintz narrative, that part got lost. Much more has been made of "the deal" Stintz had with the mayor to put six councillors and five citizen appointees on the TTC board before that blew up sometime late Friday.
But the configuration proposed by the mayor was too dangerous for Stintz's allies. Under the six-and-five scenario, with the five non-council appointees to the board controlled by the mayor's office, all Ford would need is the support of one of six councillors to undermine Stintz as TTC chair. Thus the opposition's plan to put seven councillors and four civilian members on the TTC board.
A Ford putsch of the board almost happened anyway during the vote to decide who would become TTC chair.
To the astonishment of almost everyone in the council chamber, Stintz included, former TTC vice-chair and Stintz ally Peter Milczyn allowed his nomination for the position, put forward by Fordist Mark Grimes, to stand.
Stintz made a beeline for Milczyn, only to be shooed back to her seat by Speaker Frances Nunziata. Irony almost turned to tragedy when Stintz ally Maria Augimeri, apparently mesmerized by the fact that Milzyn had decided to keep his name on the ballot, mistakenly ended up voting for Milczyn instead. Both Raymond Cho and Shelley Carroll, whom Ford lieutenant Giorgio Mammoliti had nominated, hoping to create a vote split to sink Stintz, declined their nominations.
In the end it didn't matter. Stintz won by a comfortable 25-19 vote. I mention this twist simply to point out that in politics your ally on one vote can be your enemy on the next.
Milczyn in particular has been playing his cards very carefully, on the one hand voting against Webster's firing, on the other supporting some of the mayor's slate for the TTC board. Having barely beaten back Fordist Justin Di Ciano in the last election by fewer than 70 votes, Milczyn doesn't want to appear to be distancing himself too much from the mayor. (Nota bene: Di Ciano is a good friend of former Ford chief of staff Nick Kouvalis).
Some Ford allies did seem to be signalling their loosening ties to the mayor. Michelle Berardinetti has said publicly that she'll be resigning her seat on the budget committee - officially to concentrate on her ward work.
But it's also true that Berardinetti, put off by the mayor's intransigence in the budget debate that began his political slide, has become increasingly "uncomfortable," one insider says, about being told how to vote by the mayor's office.
Michael Thompson, another Ford backer, broke with the mayor and voted for Stintz for TTC chair. Thompson was another unhappy about Webster's firing.
Milczyn said Monday's vote released long-pent-up tension, and attributed the mayor's political "setbacks" to a steep "learning curve."
"No other administration has done so much in such a short period of time," he offered.
There's another big test just around the corner for the mayor to prove he's learned something from his fall from grace. A special meeting of council on March 21 will review the recommendations of the expert panel set up to parse the subway-versus-LRT debate on Sheppard.
It's been known for some weeks that the panel will recommend building LRTs, not the subway Ford wants. Word is Scarborough Councillor Norm Kelly has been lobbying the mayor hard to accept a compromise.
As one Fordist put it to me: "The mayor has no choice." Maybe.
The idea of a two-stop subway extension on Sheppard to Victoria Park, and light rail to join that line to the Eglinton Crosstown has been floated. But speculation on the mayor's thoughts may be irrelevant.
The left-right-centre coalition now running the show seems happy to move on without him.