One of only two female councillors on Mayor Rob Ford’s executive has decided to quit the influential committee.
Michelle Berardinetti, a first-term councillor from Scarborough, said she is leaving the cabinet-like committee because she is tired of being pressured to vote with the mayor.
“I expected a degree of autonomy,” Ms. Berardinetti said Monday. “I was told that it would just be key votes. So when we started and it became every single vote, I had real problems with that.”
Ms. Berardinetti’s departure leaves the 13-member executive with just one woman – Jaye Robinson, another rookie councillor who said in the spring that she planned to quit the executive at the end of this year because of Mr. Ford’s general refusal to compromise.
The councillor for Ward 25 Don Valley West said a combination of factors led to her decision to stay on, including Ms. Berardinetti’s looming departure and encouragement from constituents who told her she could accomplish more inside the mayor’s tent than out.
Mr. Ford has also demonstrated a new willingness to bend, she said, pointing to his support for a public-housing compromise fashioned by Councillor Ana Bailao.
“I would say that the mayor has mellowed a bit,” Ms. Robinson said. “I guess what I’ve seen is there’s been a shift in the mayor’s willingness to compromise and adapt.”
Ms. Robinson called that shift “slight.” She acknowledged that the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, do not always follow her advice.
For instance, she encouraged the mayor to quit his football coaching gig and the Ford brothers to dump their Sunday radio show during a gathering of supportive councillors at the mayor’s mother’s house at the end of September.
“I was very frank with him,” Ms. Robinson recalled. “I encouraged him to become a cheerleader of the football team, but not necessarily the head coach. I also encouraged him to drop his radio program on Sunday because I feel like that radio program does not frame their week up well.”
The mayor’s executive committee, which is comprised of the chairs of standing committees and four at-large members, is officially the mayor’s inner circle.
Despite that, Councillor Ford – who exerts enormous influence on his brother without sitting on the executive committee – dismissed its make-up as unimportant Monday.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t care who’s on the executive,” he said. “We’re going to have the number that we need and that’s it. If people don’t want to come on the executive, that’s their choice.”
No other executive members have said publicly that they want to leave the committee when the mid-term shuffle takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.
In a survey made public last Friday, the committee chairs all indicated they want to keep their posts, save for Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who listed the committee he currently chairs, community development and recreation, as his third choice.
Three left-leaning female councillors – Maria Augimeri, Pam McConnell and Janet Davis – have put their names forward for executive posts, but the mayor is unlikely to welcome his political opponents into the fold.
Ms. Berardinetti, who listed the executive as her top choice in the same survey, said she was only keeping her options open until she settled on quitting.
The striking committee meets this Friday to recommend assignments for the second half of Mr. Ford’s term.
At least one councillor, Scarborough’s Gary Crawford, is already vying for the vacant seat on the executive committee. “It’s really about representing the needs of my constituents and executive committee is a fairly influential committee,” said Mr. Crawford, a first-term councillor who regularly votes with the mayor. “It gives me an opportunity to voice those concerns and ideas that I bring to the table.”
He said the mayor has not yet formally asked him to join the committee.
However, according to Ms. Berardinetti, the mayor’s chief of staff, Mark Towhey, wanted Mr. Crawford to take over as chair of Scarborough community council – a post Ms. Berardinetti coveted.
“It was just appalling to me that here’s [Mr. Towhey] trying to dictate and say how Scarborough community councillors are going to vote,” Ms. Berardinetti said. “If he’d like to put his name on a ballot and run, and then on top of that get elected and then serve and vote, then he can do that. But to try and tell me what to do, it’s ridiculous. I was actually really offended by that point. But I’d already made the decision before, but that solidified it.”
Neither Mr. Towhey nor the mayor’s press secretary responded immediately to requests for comment.
Ms. Berardinetti was elected chair of Scarborough community council at the panel’s meeting last week. Mr. Crawford was elected vice-chair.
Councillor Mike Del Grande, the budget chief and an executive member, said he understood there was an arrangement made between Ms. Berardinetti and another councillor.
“It is rather generous to say that [she is] stepping down as opposed to coming to an arrangement,” he said. “My take on that is more of a gentleman’s-lady’s agreement on how that was going to go…More of an accommodation.”
With a report from Elizabeth Church