Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti speaks with colleagues Mary Fragedakis and David Shiner at executive committee, April 15, 2013.
The casino debate at Rob Ford's executive committee this week is sure to create friction between councillors, who are sharply divided on the proposal to put gaming resort downtown.
But there was a moment of bipartisan goodwill on Monday morning when Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti made a surprise return to City Hall after undergoing brain surgery two weeks ago.
The normally dapper York West councillor was dressed casually in a black long-sleeved shirt, a Tim Hortons cup in hand. When he entered the meeting room he was greeted by a warm round of applause from his colleagues, who took turns welcoming him back following the procedure that removed an abnormality behind his eye.
Mayor Ford gave him the floor to speak, and later left his place at the head of the meeting to embrace his erstwhile council lieutenant.
"I want to thank everybody in the city and around this City Hall for all their wonderful wishes," Mammoliti told the packed committee room. "The hundreds of letters and the thousands of phones calls, it's really meant a lot to me and my family. And while I can't be back for a couple more weeks, Mr. Mayor, I'm just so happy to be here."
Mammoliti resigned from the executive committee in November during the mayor's fight against conflict of interest charges, and while he has drifted from Ford, on the casino file they are both firmly in the "yes" camp. Mammoliti said he wanted to come to the executive meeting to help ensure the casino proposal got a green light.
Afterwards, the outspoken councillor was uncharacteristically solemn as he spoke to reporters about his health scare. He said if it weren't for the emergency surgery, it would have been only a matter of time before he had a stroke.
"The first thing that comes to mind is your family and your friends, and everything that you've really worked for and strived for in a personal way," he said. "And then you start worrying about whether or not you can make it, you can make it back to work, you can do the things you love to do.
"And so right now I'm going to recover, and then focus on myself and see how I can be a better politician, a better person outright. These are the things that you clearly think about when your life is in jeopardy."
True to form however, Mammoliti, who is notorious for making unorthodox policy proposals, couldn't avoid making remarks that are guaranteed to raise eyebrows. He claimed that a downtown casino could help the city fight gambling addictions by bringing the afflicted "closer to us."
"I say this to you, that those addicts that are out there... are further away from us now because we don't know who they are," he said. "They're gambling in Niagara, they're gambling in Barrie, and they're away from the city of Toronto. I think that with the right approach, we can bring those addicts closer to us and find a mechanism to help them sooner than later."
Soon afterwards, Ford's press secretary, who was standing nearby, called an end to reporters' questions.
Mammoliti said he doesn't expect to be back at work for at least two weeks.
With a file from Jonathan Goldsbie.