Photo by Cheol Joon Baek.
Rob Ford welcomed hundreds of citizens to City Hall on Tuesday on what could be his last New Year's Day as mayor of Toronto.
Ford was joined at the annual New Year's Levee by more than a dozen councillors of all political stripes, and spent two hours shaking hands with the largely supportive crowd that lined up to meet him.
But while the event signalled the start of 2013, Ford has yet to fully leave behind a turbulent 2012 that saw him mired in a string of controversies and legal troubles, including the November conflict of interest ruling that ordered him out of office.
He will be in court on January 7 to appeal the decision, and many Levee attendees wished him luck with the case.
One resident, Filomina Carusone, said she believes Ford is doing a good job, and told him she hopes he "stays with us."
"I like him acting serious, and I like him [being] tough," she said. "More parents and more people in charge need to be tough."
Another Levee-goer, Al Bensette, shared a laugh with Ford as he congratulated him on his recent victory in a $6-million libel suit. On December 27, a judge dismissed the case brought against the mayor by Boardwalk Pub operator George Foulidis.
"We're just glad he won," said Bensette, who is from the Beaches neighbourhood where Foulidis won a controversial city contract to run a restaurant on park land.
Bensette said that Ford has done his best since being elected in 2010, but is constantly thwarted by council left-wingers like Adam Vaughan.
"Every time he tries to do something, Adam will go with all his cronies and go after him," Bensette said. "I feel he can't get anything done... It seems like there's not enough people on his side at City Hall."
While many who attended the Levee were self-described members of so-called Ford Nation, others had less-than-favourable words for the mayor.
Mary Hynes said she told Ford it was time he step down.
"I said he's had a rough couple of years, so he's earned a rest," Hynes said.
Hynes, who was nicknamed "Yelly Granny" by some media outlets after speaking against Ford's proposed cuts to library services in 2011, came to City Hall Tuesday because she felt the mayor needs to know that many Torontonians oppose his agenda.
"I think it's important he also realizes Ford Nation is not as ubiquitous as he thinks it is. I'm in the suburbs. I have friends who voted for him who would never vote for him again," she said.
Asked what she hoped for the mayor in 2013, Hynes didn't hesitate. "Hopefully, a court case that says, ‘get your ass out of here,'" she quipped.
A message sent out from Ford's office last week advised media that the mayor wouldn't be doing any interviews during the levee, but his brother, Councillor Doug Ford told reporters he expects positive things in the coming year.
"I'm feeling good about 2013. I'm feeling good about the economy, I'm feeling good about the city," Councillor Ford said as the levee wrapped up. "We're going to continue focusing on saving taxpayers money."
Asked if he thought the mayor will win his conflict of interest appeal, the normally bullish councillor said he couldn't make a prediction.
"You know something, I'm not too sure. It's strictly up the courts, and we'll let the courts decide," he said.
A final decision on the mayor's appeal is expected by February.
After the conflict ruling in November, both the Ford brothers initially said that they would prefer council call a by-election instead of appointing someone to the mayor's chair. But last Friday, the mayor told a talk radio show he now wants council to reappoint him if he's ousted.
Doug has also changed his tune, and on Tuesday described a by-election, which would cost at least $7 million, as a worst case scenario.
"You want to save the $7 million. Worse comes to worse, go to the people. That's my opinion," he said.
Councillor Carroll, who announced in November she would run against the mayor if a by-election were called, has also had second thoughts about sending voters to the polls. If Ford loses his appeal, council would have 60 days to decide whether to hold a vote or appoint a new mayor. Carroll says councillors should take at least 30 of those days to listen to what residents want.
"Councillors are all getting communications from a lot of people saying, please don't spend an extra $7 million," she said.