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Toronto Gasps in council as Rob Ford votes against Nelson Mandela motion

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is surrounded by media and the public after visiting some of the food trucks set up on Nathan Phillips Square on April 2, 2014.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Mayor Rob Ford is well known for his contrarian record on council, but his lone dissenting vote on a plan to honour Nelson Mandela and another to congratulate Olympic athletes – which he later said were in error – surprised even his colleagues at Toronto city hall.

The "no" votes were two of several cast Wednesday afternoon by Mr. Ford. But when the large screen in the council chamber showed his name as the only one opposing a request of staff to recommend a prominent street to dedicate in honour of the anti-apartheid hero, there was a gasp.

About 10 minutes later, Mr. Ford was alone in his opposition to sending congratulations to Olympic athletes.

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Both votes set off a wave of comment on social media. The story was quickly picked up by the international press, the latest example of the attention garnered by Toronto's controversial leader.

Half an hour after the first of the two votes, when questioned by reporters, the mayor's chief of staff Dan Jacobs had a conversation with Mr. Ford. Mr. Jacobs returned to say Mr. Ford voted in error.

The mayor then got to his feet to ask council to reopen the two items. "I voted the wrong way," he told council.

His request was turned down by councillors who said some of their colleagues who voted for the motions were no longer on the floor and would have their "yes" vote erased from the record, prompting the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, to accuse them of using a double-standard.

"I made a mistake like these councillors do every single council meeting," the mayor said at the end of the day. "Every single meeting they reopen it. Rob Ford makes a mistake, they don't reopen it."

The mayor said he "asked immediately" to correct his vote. When told it was 30 minutes, he responded, "It wasn't half an hour. You know what. That's the end of that conversation … forget it guys."

"They don't play fair," Doug Ford said, later adding: "No one in this city supports the black community more than Rob Ford. No one. Bottom line. Zing … No one supports Olympic athletes more than Rob Ford."

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Several councillors questioned the mayor's motives, while others lamented that the antics were taking the limelight away from two well-intentioned actions by council.

"He votes alone on these things out of disdain and disgust and just out of spite," Councillor Josh Matlow said, telling reporters "not to buy" that the mayor made a mistake. "He knew exactly what he was doing, at least as much as he often does, and now he is trying to get out of it because he has been caught," he said.

Councillor Mike Del Grande, once an ally of Mr. Ford, said the mayor "doesn't pay attention. His mind was somewhere else … it's embarrassing."

In the past, Mr. Del Grande said, "other people covered for him … Now he's basically flying alone and when you're alone, you're making a vote yes or no, there's nobody that you can blame other than yourself."

Either way, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said his colleagues should let Mr. Ford change his vote. "It is really unfortunate that when we are trying to recognize Nelson Mandela, Rob Ford becomes the story."

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly described the moment when the vote count went up. "There was an audible gasp when it was revealed," he said. "Was he not paying attention? It's been a pretty slow and lazy afternoon. That would be the best explanation for it," he said.

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Councillor James Pasternak, who sponsored the motion to honour Mr. Mandela, said no matter what the reason, the mayor waited too long to try to change his vote. "Obviously I was astounded that he was the only one in the chamber that voted in the negative against a tribute to what many worldwide see as an iconic figure," he said.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti accused councillors of playing politics. "The fangs came out big time and you're starting to see how horrible this council actually can be to each other," he said.

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