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There is no bad blood staining the simultaneous resignations of two of Mayor David Miller's senior staff members, according to all those involved -- both the jilters and the jilted. But the upshot is still two fewer people in an office that has yet to win a reputation for being effective. Notable at the best of times, their absence becomes conspicuous in the current political doldrums.

Senior council liaison Paul Burns, Mr. Miller's token Tory, cashed in, leaving city hall to become a spokesman for casino interests. Communications director Andrea Addario left to "focus on music, spend more time in garden," according to the "snooze release" she prepared to announce the event. Resigning from staff will allow her to work on the mayor's re-election campaign, she said, albeit declining to offer any particular reason why she did so now.

Whatever other weaknesses they may or may not reveal, the sudden departures dramatize another glaring absence in the mayor's office: its lack of a chief of staff. Probably unique in this respect, Mr. Miller's shop runs without a boss (apart from him, of course). In the place of one head, he has two executive assistants, Bruce Scott and Jane Karwat, who divide the work according to tortuous rites of left-wing collegiality.

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Thus the departure of two reveals the absence of three -- along with a plausible theory to explain at least part of the reason why the mayor is still struggling to show accomplishments in keeping with the expectations raised by his election: Nobody's cracking the whip.

Divvying up one staff job among two generally young, underpaid people is an old habit among councillors of the socialist persuasion. But the employment gain always comes at the cost of executive function. Just ask Mr. Scott, who first joined former councillor Miller's staff after a power struggle among supposed equals squeezed him out of Councillor Olivia Chow's office. An arrangement that rarely works at that level is almost certainly inadequate in the higher realm of the mayor's office.

When former mayor Barbara Hall first won her job 10 years ago, she brought in a self-assured young person named George Smitherman to run her office -- which he did with the same cockiness that he now displays as master of the $33-billion Ontario Ministry of Health.

Many observers credited the equally young, go-getting Rod Phillips, now a prominent businessman, for the success of mayor Mel Lastman's first term in office. As Mr. Lastman's first chief of staff, his effectiveness at keeping the erratic incumbent in line and on message became especially apparent after he left the job and Mr. Lastman turned to a faithful old retainer from North York to guide him through his second term -- the hideous disaster that gave councillor Miller his big break.

As mayor, Mr. Miller's blessing and his curse is the fact that he is no Mel Lastman. Unlike Mel, he figures he can master the job himself without the help of a shadow chief ruling behind the scenes. Mr. Miller's ill-fated gambit to become chairman of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation exemplified his instinct to spread himself everywhere rather than to delegate his authority. But there is still no one in his office with the full-time responsibility to manage that key file. It is one of many shared collegially among his diminishing staff.

Simple skittishness is one reason why the mayor and his office remain so quiet. New Democrats are not used to holding power and, like Ms. Hall before him, Mr. Miller is afraid to expose himself ideologically by daring to make enemies. He has become master of that old Toronto art, first perfected by mayor David Crombie, of the pre-emptive surrender.

To win re-election, however, he will have to learn how to crack the whip. And hiring a real chief of staff to do the job would be a good first step.

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jbarber@globeandmail.ca

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