R. Jeanette Martin
At a certain point even the gimmicks become predictable. When a man slips into character as the Godfather to deliver a speech broadly comparing the gambling industry to organized crime, yes, it's a highlight. But it's not a surprise.
At meetings like Monday, April 22's, executive committee session on casinos - a marathon undertaking, ostensibly held to give the public an opportunity to directly address their elected reps on the subject - we slip into our respective roles far too easily.
The left-wing councillors ask passive-aggressive questions of the business deputants. The right-wing councillors ask passive-aggressive questions of the activist deputants.
The puffy, suited lobbyists run through their PowerPoint presentations. The engaged grassroots citizens share a combination of personal stories, cited statistics and earnest pleas. And the media sit in a single row, far off to the side, wondering who will be the first speaker to cry.
It certainly doesn't help that the outcomes, at the committee stage and at council, are foregone conclusions. (As expected, the casino issue sailed through the exec on its way to what will likely be a drawn-out but spectacular death at council.) So much passionate sincerity gets crunched up and spit out as so much performance.
And so we all wait for a rupture: something that will jolt us from our cynical stupor and remind us why all this is worthwhile. Today's break from the preordained, however, comes from outside the committee room.
The explosions in Boston just before 3 pm slowly suck us in, one by one. Paying attention to the executive meeting becomes more difficult as the photos and videos and tweets and liveblogs drip out a succession of horrific and hypnotic details.
In such moments following the breaking news of an immediate tragedy, nothing else seems important; the rest of life comes across as superficial theatre.
A member of the public sitting on the floor next to me sees my computer screen, and I explain what has happened. She rushes out of the room to call her parents, who are in Boston.
When she returns, she tells me her parents were just two blocks away. They're okay, thank goodness, but they witnessed the "huge fireball."
She sits back down on the floor and tries to keep following the meeting, but seems pretty broken up. I am, too.
"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," said Giorgio Mammoliti much earlier in the day in regard to his recent emergency brain surgery. He'd returned to City Hall, though only briefly, for the first time since his hospitalization.
Mammoliti is someone for whom politics long ago turned into a game. More than any other councillor, he's someone who puts on a show that veers between the winking and the insane. Today, however, he seemed humbled, and that itself was humbling. I didn't know what I could ask him in the scrum that would respect the experience he'd recently been through.
Every day at City Hall is a different adventure: a different quest through the weighty, the ridiculous and the mundane. It is a distinct, separate, heightened state of reality. A bubble. But it is in this context that our municipal decisions get made, the future of our city is decided and the role of government in helping or hurting the vulnerable is determined. It is both more and less real than anything else.
Shortly after 5:30 pm, Mayor Rob Ford announces he'll be making a short statement concerning the "shocking attack in Boston." Some in the public gallery gasp. "What?!" They hadn't heard yet.