Mayor Rob Ford may need to woo council’s six centrist swing voters if he is going to win the looming budget battle. So he puzzled many councillors two weeks ago when he made a calculated decision to alienate one of the centrists — over, of all things, a traffic light.
Traffic light projects usually sail through council without a discussion or a vote. The mayor almost never tries to stop them. But at council’s July meeting, Ford placed an unusual “hold” on a proposed new Dufferin St. light near an elementary school in the Davenport ward of centrist Councillor Ana Bailão.
Then, according to another centrist, Councillor Josh Colle, his allies lobbied other councillors to vote to kill the project.
“I think a lot of councillors were surprised that a local issue was being so heavily lobbied on,” Colle said.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said Ford was simply being the principled and prudent guardian of taxpayer money he has always been. The city’s expert traffic planners had deemed the light to cost $150,000 to protect the lives of school children.
Seems like money well spent, protecting school children.
But Bailão thinks Ford may have been attempting to send her a message.
She has frequently opposed him. By trying to thwart a strictly local project she had fought for, he signaled to her and other centrists, intentionally or not, that he can make their lives difficult if he chooses to play hardball.
Whatever Ford was trying to convey, his plan may have backfired. He lost the vote 25-9 — with every centrist present, and five members of his hand-picked executive committee, voting against him. And, in defeat, he soured his relationship with Bailão.
Asked whether Ford’s effort to deny the Dufferin St. and Gordon St. light, Bailão said: “It obviously didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.”
“You have hundreds of letters from parents, you had community meetings. It’s not something that I brought to council without doing my homework in my community,” she said. “And when you have to fight so hard to get something that’s so important to your community — something that, usually, people understand — it makes you question why.”
The vote outcome demonstrated that independent-minded councillors will not be cowed into voting with the mayor.
Ford’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Ford placed another hold on the Lawrence Heights revitalization plan. Ford released the hold after Colle joined him in voting to remove the Jarvis St. bike lanes, prompting speculation that he had placed the hold as a veiled threat.
Ford lost the Lawrence Heights vote 38-1.
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