Toronto councillors from opposite ends of the political spectrum are lining up to support a colleague who intends to fight her drunk-driving charges.
In her first public comments since her arrest early Tuesday morning, Councillor Ana Bailao promised the criminal charges would not diminish her work as the representative of Ward 18 Davenport and chair of the affordable-housing committee.
“These charges will in no way affect my ability to do the job I was elected to do. I intend to plead not guilty,” the 36-year-old Ms. Bailao told reporters.
“It’s a difficult situation,” she added, her voice quivering. “[I’ve] never been through anything even remotely similar. Obviously it affects you personally.”
As she made her statement to the media Wednesday, Ms. Bailao was flanked by left-wing Councillor Pam McConnell and right-winger Frances Nunziata.
A handful of other councillors showed their support from the sidelines at the news conference, which was co-ordinated by Mayor Rob Ford’s press secretary.
The bipartisan display was a testament to Ms. Bailao’s personal popularity on a city council that is usually bitterly divided between its left- and right-leaning factions.
She is an independent whose vote is coveted by both sides.
“She’s going through a tough time right now and everyone makes mistakes,” said Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother. “I’m confident that she’s going to keep serving her constituents well.”
Ms. Nunziata echoed those sentiments. “She’s an amazing councillor. She works hard for her constituents.”
Toronto police pulled over Ms. Bailao at 1:47 a.m. Tuesday in the area of Bathurst Street and Harbord Street, about four hours after she left the Mayor’s Ball for the Arts.
Ms. Bailao has been charged with impaired driving and operating a vehicle with more than the legal amount of alcohol in her bloodstream. She declined to say how many drinks she had before getting behind the wheel, or where she was between the end of the gala and her arrest.
If convicted, Ms. Bailao would be allowed by law to keep her seat on council – as long as she is not sent to prison, something a municipal law expert said is a long shot in this case.
“It’s very unlikely she’s going to be sentenced [to prison],” said John Mascarin, a lawyer with Toronto firm Aird and Berlis. “She would then be disqualified pursuant to the Municipal Elections Act, but only if she’s serving a sentence and I really don’t see that as being likely in this case.”
As a moderate centrist, Ms. Bailao has worked and voted with both sides since being elected to council in 2010.
She recently forged a compromise on the fate of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s portfolio of single-family homes, a plan that is expected to win broad endorsement at council later this month.
Asked whether he was disappointed in Ms. Bailao, Doug Ford said: “I think when you look around the room here, we’ve all had a bad night. She regrets it. She apologizes. I think it’s time to move on now.”
Mayor Rob Ford, who himself pleaded no contest to a drunk-driving charge in Florida in 1999, also expressed his support for Ms. Bailao on Tuesday.
Councillor Paula Fletcher called her colleague’s arrest a “wake-up call” for politicians pressed to drink at a constant parade of evening receptions and rubber-chicken dinners.
“I think this a wake-up call for any elected officials who really are out in a lot of places, expected to have a great time,” she said.
Ms. Bailao is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 3.