When Mel Lastman is sworn in as mayor for possibly the last time this week, his wife Marilyn is wearing black. Say what you will about her life choices, the lady knows how to dress for an occasion. The mood in city council chambers is unavoidably sombre. There's none of the electricity and pomp that filled the room three years ago when Mel first swore to uphold the office. As far as official functions go, traffic court is more exciting.
All eyes are glued on the dysfunctional couple as they stroll into the room and take their seats side by side on the dais (at what may be the only council meeting for the next three years where Case Ootes won't be sitting in Mel's place). The media strain to catch signs of how the mayor and Marilyn are holding up.
There's no lilt in Mel's voice as he takes the oath of office and delivers his inauguration address, mapping out his, er, vision for the next three years. But, then, Mel's normally a painfully uninspiring speaker.
In the media scrum, it takes three questions -- on tax assessment and a summit with Jane Jacobs -- before we finally get to what's on everyone's mind.
"How does it feel to be talking about the state of the city instead of the state of your personal life after last week?" Adam Vaughan asks.
After an awkward silence, Mel replies, "I will only talk about the state of the city and I will only be talking about city business."
Of course, he'll be talking to himself, because nobody's listening.
City business? Puhleeze! City Hall has become a soap opera, and Mel's our Susan Lucci. The TV networks couldn't come up with daytime cheese this good.
In politics, image is everything. Granted, Mel doesn't preach family values, but he's stroked his image as devoted husband, loving father and grandfather over his entire political career.
The next major poll on Mel's performance will indicate whether the public is tuned in to the mayor's political agenda or As City Hall Turns. If that reaffirming 80-per-cent approval rating takes a dive, it will be one indication that nobody's listening. And then we're stuck with a lame-duck mayor for the next three years.
While Mel and the powerbrokers at City Hall who installed him should have no problem corralling the sheep on council, it may become more difficult for the mayor to play hardball with the province and the feds for the things that matter.
If the public turns on Mel, he may no longer seem so politically powerful when he wags his finger at the Chretien Liberals for dithering on funds for affordable housing -- especially for the housing needed for the increasing numbers of children living in poverty. The federal Liberals, who took Stockwell Day's distasteful personal beliefs and made mincemeat of him, probably won't react kindly to being called on the carpet by an alleged deadbeat dad.
Even Mike Harris, who's spouted nothing but rhetoric about improving the lot of kids, looks like a nice guy compared to Mel. While Harris may be splitsville with his wife, at least he hasn't abandoned his children.
Do we really care? You bet. firstname.lastname@example.org