Montreal lost its second mayor to scandal in under a year Tuesday when Michael Applebaum relinquished his office, setting off another search for a civic leader to steer a dispirited and embattled city through turmoil.
Standing in the same marble Hall of Honour where former mayor Gérald Tremblay resigned in disgrace only seven months ago, Mr. Applebaum announced he would step down to devote himself to fighting the raft of criminal charges announced Monday by provincial anti-corruption police.
He maintained his innocence and, despite the 14 counts of fraud, conspiracy and corruption now weighing against him, asserted he has "never taken a penny from anybody."
"I would like to tell Montrealers that I love them," Mr. Applebaum said in English, adding that he understood their feelings of frustration, cynicism and "deception," using a word that means disappointment in French but which inadvertently sent an entirely different message in English.
Still, he took credit for the anti-corruption measures adopted since he began his tenure. "We have accomplished a lot to put Montreal back on the right track."
Mr. Applebaum, 50, had little choice but to step aside after facing unanimous demands to resign from both political colleagues and the Quebec government. In the wake of the announcement, Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault called it "the best decision, under the circumstances."
The resignation made for an ignominious end to a seven-month term that began as a historic marker, when Mr. Applebaum was sworn in as the city's first anglophone mayor in a century. He now leaves under a cloud, unleashing an intense process to select a replacement who would become Montreal's third mayor in less than a year.
Mr. Applebaum's successor will need to run Canada's second-largest city until municipal elections in November. Among the candidate's challenges are reassuring business, rebuilding public trust and restoring the name of a once-proud city that has become synonymous with corruption around the world. The arrest of Mr. Applebaum, a civic politician who entered the mayor's office promising to fight graft, made news in the U.S. and Europe.
"There's no question the reputation of the city of Montreal has taken a beating," said Councillor Alan DeSousa, a potential candidate for interim mayor.
The 62 sitting members of Montreal City Council are expected to vote on a replacement as early as next week. In the meantime, various factions on the fractured council began jockeying to put forward candidacies, which can be submitted until the end of the day Friday. About a half dozen names have emerged as potential successors until Montrealers head to the polls Nov. 3.
Opposition leaders Richard Bergeron and Louise Harel both said the interim mayor has to be beyond reproach, and not come from boroughs that were the target of raids or searches this year by Quebec's anti-corruption unit, UPAC.
Several borough offices, including the Côte-des-Neiges – Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough formerly represented by Mr. Applebaum, were raided by police as part of corruption probes.
Both opposition leaders also said the next interim mayor should have no connection to the now-dissolved Union Montreal, the party to which both Mr. Tremblay and Mr. Applebaum belonged, and which has been tarnished by testimony before the Charbonneau corruption probe linking it to illegal fundraising practices.
"We have to restore order and calm to city hall," said Mr. Bergeron, who leads the Projet Montréal party. "We have just gone through another episode in the horror story. Let's hope this is the last episode."