Councillor Mike Del Grande says he is making a “clean break” from the mayor’s office, leaving the high-powered executive as well as quitting as budget chair – even though Doug Ford insists the budget chief remains his brother’s top choice to quarterback the city’s fiscal agenda.
Mr. Del Grande, who delivered three budgets under Mayor Rob Ford, has said for weeks that he would step down if council made major changes to this year’s fiscal plan. He was quick to make good on that promise – he handed the mayor his resignation on Wednesday, moments after council passed the budget with $12-million in new spending. His move also came one day after the mayor voted against his own budget to support a long-shot bid to freeze taxes that failed on the council floor.
The budget chief’s departure creates one more uncertainty for Mr. Ford, who could be turfed from office any day if his appeal of a conflict-of-interest ruling fails. The fallout from the budget, touted as a compromise and a victory on Wednesday by the mayor, illustrates his troubled efforts to get the support of councillors who could decide his political fate if he is removed, by either voting to have him reappointed or calling a by-election.
Mr. Del Grande’s resignation as budget chair has left many councillors wondering who will fill his place. Several, including Doug Ford, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Peter Milczyn and David Shiner said Thursday that the job is not for them. Councillor Paul Ainslie said he has not been offered the post, but would be “more than happy” to take it.
Late Thursday, speculation continued that the mayor and Mr. Del Grande might find a way to patch things up.
“The mayor is looking at certain candidates, but I’ll tell you one thing, his choice is Mike Del Grande,” said Councillor Ford, who made the rounds of local media on Thursday. “He has done an incredible job, and if he’d like to stay, we’d love to have him.”
However, one day after handing in his resignation, Mr. Del Grande said he had yet to speak with the mayor.
“That’s Rob. That’s the way he is. I don’t read anything into it,” he said. “I don’t have any bone to pick with him at this stage.”
Mr. Del Grande said Councillor Ford, who is budget vice-chair, left him a message offering to step in as budget chief temporarily if he needs a rest. He declined the offer.
The mayor gave no comment on the departure beyond a written statement. “A replacement will be named at the appropriate time,” a spokesman for his office said.
Mr. Del Grande told several reporters that if council asked him to return, he would consider it, but he later dismissed the rumours those words set off. “That’s not going to happen. It’s not a realistic question,” he said.
For the past two years, Mr. Del Grande told The Globe and Mail, he has been more than a budget chair, attending daily staff meetings in the mayor’s office even when Mr. Ford himself was not there.
Mr. Del Grande said he is not bitter about his decision, but will now act as an independent, giving up his role in what he describes as the mayor’s “inner sanctum.”
“If you want to make a break, make a clean break,” he said. “I basically put myself off executive. That way I can truly become independent and I will do what needs to be done because I want to, not because I’m on a cabinet – not that I disagree with a lot of the stuff that has occurred.”
The budget committee is scheduled to meet on Friday morning, and Mr. Del Grande said he will not be there.
Councillor Ford said he will lead the meeting.
Several councillors said they understood why Mr. Del Grande made his decision, with some saying they had already asked him to reconsider.
“The mayor’s office needs to extend an olive branch,” said Councillor Jaye Robinson, a member of the mayor’s executive, who has asked Mr. Del Grande to return.
Two other executive members, Mr. Minnan-Wong and Mr. Shiner – a former budget chair – both said the mayor’s office let Mr. Del Grande down by not locking up support for the budget at council.
“It’s the mayor’s responsibility to make sure that [the] budget carries on the council floor,” Mr. Shiner said.
Mr. Minnan-Wong noted that the budget chair gets his direction from the mayor’s office. It is only fair, he said, to expect support from the person who put you in the job, a reference to the mayor’s rogue support of the zero-tax increase motion. (Mr. Del Grande‘s budget called for a 2-per-cent increase in property taxes.)
“When you have the rug pulled out from under you after you do all that work, you can’t blame the budget chief for what he did,” Mr. Minnan-Wong said.
Mr. Shiner said he believed Doug Ford would be a good choice for a replacement, and said he understood Mr. Del Grande’s reaction to a motion from Councillor Joe Mihevc that called for greater budget transparency. Mr. Shiner called the motion “insulting.”
Mr. Del Grande said he viewed the motion, which passed 25-20, as a vote of non-confidence in the budget process that he led.
Others suggested the former budget chair had taken it too harshly.
Mr. Mihevc said he was shocked the “innocuous” motion played a role in Mr. Del Grande’s resignation.“I didn’t know the power of my pen,” he said.
Mr. Mihevc, who also put forward a motion that yielded $1.163-million for a student nutrition program, said his goal with the transparency motion was to make the budget process easier to follow for councillors and the public alike.
“All that’s about process. It had nothing to do with the character, or frankly even politics,” he said.
Councillor Shelley Carroll said that, as a former budget chair, she is well aware of the vilification that can come with the job. However, Ms. Carroll said she believed Mr. Del Grande took the transparency motion “too personally.”
She did not offer any names on a replacement, saying she would not be interested in the job under Mayor Ford, because the two “don’t have the same belief in math.”
Ms. Carroll said the assignment would be difficult for any councillor, since that person could be the public face for budget cuts while up for re-election next year.