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Mayor Rob Ford attends an executive committee meeting at Toronto's City Hall on Thursday, December 5 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Mayor Rob Ford attends an executive committee meeting at Toronto's City Hall on Thursday, December 5 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mayor Rob Ford looks on from sidelines as City Hall work is done Add to ...

Since last month, when city council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of many of his powers, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has been quietly but firmly asserting his authority as the real leader of the city government, leaving Mr. Ford lingering on the sidelines.

Last week at City Hall, Mr. Kelly chaired a meeting of council’s cabinet-like executive committee, a job that used to be Mr. Ford’s. Mr. Kelly sat at the head of the U-shaped conference table while the mayor sat on the inner ring like an ordinary city councillor.

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Close observers would have noticed a small but meaningful moment. Mr. Ford had finished a speech against hiring more managers at city hall. “Thanks, Mr. Deputy Mayor,” he said, after summing up. “Thank you, Rob,” Mr. Kelly replied. Not “Mayor” but “Rob.”

It was not meant as a slight – Mr. Kelly is the older man, at 72 to Mr. Ford’s 44 – but it nicely symbolized how Mr. Kelly is taking charge.

It was Mr. Kelly who met last week with Premier Kathleen Wynne, who had declined to meet Mr. Ford. It was Mr. Kelly who brokered a decision at the executive committee to put off considering a bid by Porter Airlines to introduce jet aircraft at the island airport. Mr. Ford wanted to give Porter approval right away. Some city councillors want to kill the bid altogether.

In a further sign of his ascendance, Mr. Kelly is scheduled to give a speech to members of the city’s business community at the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Thursday.

With most of the mayor’s key staff transferred by city council to him, Mr. Kelly has been moving ahead skillfully and deliberately with the items on city council’s legislative agenda, especially the 2014 budget. Unlike Mr. Ford, who seldom reached out to city councillors, Mr. Kelly has been doing what a mayor must do to get things done: working with others.

“The deputy mayor is focused and on the ball,” said Councillor Michael Thompson of Ward 37, Scarborough Centre. “He calls people to talk about things.” What is more, Mr. Thompson said, he listens.

In the past, Mr. Thompson said, “we would talk to the mayor, but not be sure it would all be captured.” Now, he said, he can leave a meeting with Mr. Kelly confident that “he actually got what I just said.”

Mr. Kelly has been careful not to step on Mr. Ford’s toes. The mayor retains his statutory authority to represent the city, despite his reduced powers. When Mr. Ford made it clear he planned to attend Monday’s big police funeral, Mr. Kelly said that “he is the mayor of the city of Toronto and I think it is important for that office to be present.” But Mr. Kelly attended, too.

Not that there have not been awkward moments. When Nelson Mandela died last Thursday, the mayor put out a statement at 5:40 p.m. The deputy mayor issued one at 5:45 p.m. Both men lined up to sign a condolence book in the City Hall lobby.

For the most part, though, the two men have been following separate paths. They have met just once since the deputy mayor assumed his new powers. That was last week, when Mr. Kelly briefed the mayor on his plans for the executive committee.

Mr. Ford has been left alone to do things like turn on the holiday lights at City Hall, hand out candy canes at a Santa Claus parade in Etobicoke and climb on a plow to show that Toronto snow-clearing crews are ready for winter. In effect, he has become a sort of city mascot, clowning in the stands to get attention, while, on the field below, Coach Kelly is calling the plays.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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