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Toronto City Hall Oct 26, 2010. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail) (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto City Hall Oct 26, 2010. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail) (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

City hall

The rookie councillors: A year later, the lessons learned Add to ...

One year ago, these six councillors walked into City Hall as the most influential first-time councillors in recent memory. They held the balance of power in what was expected to be a fiercely partisan council session polarized by Mayor Rob Ford’s conservative faction and an obstinate left. Dubbed the “Mighty Middle,” they were independent, thoughtful and a little naive. After council’s year of discontent, The Globe and Mail caught up with the crew to find out what they hated, loved and learned during their first year working with the Ford administration.

Ana Bailao, Davenport

This even-keeled rookie blew her top this summer when she discovered work crews were about to cut into a section of Dundas Street that was recently restored to work on gas lines.

Hardest lesson

“Don’t take it personally. Everything is political.”

A former staffer to past councillor Mario Silva a decade ago, Ms. Bailao was shocked when she returned to city hall by how divisive council had become, starting with what she calls the “pinko episode” with Don Cherry at the mayor’s inauguration. Over the year, she has seen that divisiveness play out in issues in her ward, such as a council vote on a traffic light and the proposed sale of a city building to a seniors’ group. As a moderate, she gets pressure from all sides and in the worst cases has been shunned by those unhappy with her vote.

Best Day

Feb. 8: The day parking returned to Dundas Street West. It was an issue that incensed local businesses and was a major campaign pledge. The day council agreed to return the parking spots was a major accomplishment, this rookie says. “People tell you, ‘You promised and you did it.’ It shows people there are politicians that speak the truth. That felt good.”

Worst Day

Nov. 7: That was the day cyclist Jenna Morrison , a 38-year-old mother expecting her second child, was killed when she was run over by a truck in an intersection in Ms. Bailao’s west-end ward. “That was really disturbing,” she says. “We were already doing work [on that street] We were planning. You can’t help but think if something had been done earlier … It was tough.”

Big issue

Affordable housing: Ms. Bailao has several issues in her ward, including transit, but says breaking the cycle of poverty citywide for residents in social housing is a priority. She praises groups such as Hammer Heads, which helps teach trades skills, as the kind of creative solution the city needs. The vote to approve Toronto Community Housing Corp.’s sale of 22 homes – which she supported – was one of the most difficult this year, she says.

Michelle Berardinetti, Scarborough Southwest

The “elephant lady” made a splash when council approved her motion to send Toronto’s three aged elephants to a sanctuary in California rather than another zoo. The move pleased animal activists while enraging some members of the Toronto zoo board.

Hardest Lesson

She worked as a political staffer in Ottawa and Queen’s Park, “but city hall is a much different beast,” she said. “You learn very quickly about petty human behaviour, unfortunately. To try to rise above that is a tough lesson. There are a lot of councillors trying to stay above the fray. That’s where the ‘mighty middle’ councillors really want to make a difference.”

Best Day

Feb. 10: “I know it’s a local issue that didn’t get much attention, but when we secured public funding for our new Warden Hilltop Community Centre, it was exciting. It was slated to be contracted privately. I felt it should be publicly funded. I went to the mayor and said, ‘This is my number one issue and I want your support on it.’ And he did support me. It meant a million in funding every year.”

Worst Day

July 11: When Mayor Ford’s massive review of core city services began rolling out, it became clear that councillors would face some tough choices about what to cut and what to keep. “No person, no human, no councillor wants to make those decisions,” Ms. Berardinetti said. “It’s like Sophie’s Choice. We did end up removing quite a few cuts on budget committee and executive compared to what was originally presented. When we had to make the final decisions, that was tough, especially things like the Hardship Fund.”

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