Councillor Frank Di Giorgio is the new money man at City Hall.
On Tuesday Mayor Rob Ford nominated the councillor from York South-Weston to be the head of the budget committee, a position left vacant since January 16, when Mike Del Grande resigned in a huff. Ford's executive committee approved the appointment without objection.
"Frank is an experienced and well-qualified councillor who's sat on the Budget Committee since 2010," said Ford, reading to the committee from a prepared statement.
"He helped us get to a sustainable budget and understands where we're going."
Di Giorgio has been in municipal politics since 1985, when he was elected as councillor for the pre-amalgamation City of North York. A loyal ally of the mayor, he has kept a low profile during the current council term but is now not only in charge of Toronto's $9-billion-plus finances, but will also have the highly politicized task of putting together a budget Ford can run on in the 2014 election.
"I understand that it's a thankless job that I've put myself into," said Di Giorgio as he accepted the nomination. "To the extent that someone can be thankful for the opportunity to do a thankless job, I am thankful."
With the mayor standing by his side during a brief scrum, Di Giorgio told reporters he expects to be a much more hands-off budget chief than his predecessor, but made clear that he shares the mayor's priorities on the budget file. He predicted that Ford's promise for a zero per-cent property tax increase in 2014 was "doable," as was freezing budgets for all city departments.
[Update 3:13 pm: The Toronto Star reports that Di Giorgio has backtracked on his property tax freeze statement, saying in an interview he would seek an inflationary increase instead.]
Di Giorgio also said he'd take a run at eliminating or reducing the land transfer tax, something that Ford campaigned on but has yet to make any progress towards. The tax brought in an estimated $336 million in revenue last year.
Ford told reporters he'd like to reduce the tax by "about 10 per cent" before his term is up.
But while Ford sang Di Giorgio's praises, the mayor's council opponents wasted little time in declaring that the budget chair had gotten off on the wrong foot.
Councillor Gord Perks said that the city already has trouble meeting the rising costs of services every year, and Di Giorgio's pledge to try to freeze budgets and cut taxes would only make the situation worse.
"The things that the new budget chief has suggested will really put us under water, and will really make us have to cut some very important services out of the city of Toronto's budget," Councillor Gord Perks told reporters.
Perks ridiculed Di Giorgio's suggestion to find new revenues without raising taxes, calling it "the magic bean theory of government."
Councillor Adam Vaughan said he that he liked Di Giorgio on a personal level but suspects his appointment wasn't based on merit. Instead, Vaughan believes that Ford gave Di Giorgio the job to ensure his continued support on council, following attempts by several former allies to distance themselves from the mayor.
"They needed somebody, and they're running out of bench strength," said Vaughan. "If you take a look at [Di Giorgio's] voting record it's been drifting away further and further from Ford, and my guess is this is a way of locking his vote in."
Di Giorgio has a degree in mathematics from McMaster's University, and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. In Ford's remarks to the committee Tuesday, he highlighted that Di Giorgio had "guided three championship football teams" when he was a high school math teacher.