An undated photograph of Mammoliti and a panda.
Toronto has one man to thank for the panda-monium currently gripping the city, according to Giorgio Mammoliti.
That man: Giorgio Mammoliti. Of course.
On Sunday evening, the York West councillor sent out a press release, in which he took credit for the arrival of Er Shun and Ma Dao, the pair of giant pandas that touched down at Pearson Airport on Monday morning and with any luck will spend the next five years happily fornicating at the Toronto Zoo.
"‘Panda Perseverance Paid Off', ‘Panda-man' Councillor Mammoliti says" was the somewhat awkward title of the release, which asserted that the councillor's three trips to China "sealed the deal" that brought the animals to Canada.
So is it true? Is the colourful councillor responsible for the cuddly critters calling Toronto home for the next five years?
It may come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Mammoliti's penchant for hyperbole, but the answer is: sort of.
A long-time member of the zoo board, Mammoliti did travel to China three times between 2001 and 2009 to press for a panda loan. The Chongqing Zoo agreed in principle several times, and according to the minutes of the Toronto Zoo's Panda Acquisition Task Force, Chinese officials had signed a letter of intent by November 2010.
That said, the Chinese government uses pandas as a diplomatic symbol, and regularly gifts them to nations they reach deals with. The loan of the black-and-white beasts wasn't made official until February 2012, after Stephen Harper inked an economic agreement with Beijing. Without that deal, it's unlikely Er Shun and Mao Dao would have made the journey.
Mammoliti's Sunday press release came four days after he sent out an alarming statement claiming to have evidence of "organized, integrated attacks" against him, including phone tampering. Although his Sunday release was about a decidedly happier topic, this one too carried undertones of perceived persecution.
Two former prime ministers and two former mayors told Mammoliti "It couldn't be done," according to the release, and "everyone was initially skeptical" (his underline).
"To be honest, Mayor Ford has also said the same discouraging things," Mammoliti is quoted as saying.
And while most press releases are written in a flat, detached style, Mammoliti's panda presser takes the unorthodox form of a laid back interview with the councillor, presumably conducted by one of his own staff.
Mammoliti "pauses, clearly excited," the reader is told, as he waxes about the Chinese mammals. He "smiles" as he talks about their imminent arrival on the airport tarmac, and quips that "After bear hugs, I might even help the Pandas with their luggage."
Attached to the release is an undated photograph of Mammoliti and a panda.
The animal, it must be said, appears to be in some distress. Maybe the councillor is checking to see if it's wearing a wire.