John Tory's career is a story of great promise unfulfilled.
Bright, earnest, decent, dedicated to public service, he has had the look of someone headed for big things ever since he was principal secretary to Ontario premier Bill Davis in the early 1980s.
He was a lawyer in his family's famous firm, but never became a leading practitioner of the law. He was a top executive at Rogers, but left without becoming a titan of Bay Street. He ran for mayor of Toronto in 2003, but lost a close race.
He led the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, but stumbled badly, losing a general election he should have won, losing a by-election, and finally resigning as leader. He hosted a radio talk show, sat on corporate boards and chaired a civic organization.
He has walked the corridors of power, but never held power. Marked for success, he has never truly made his mark. Now is his chance.
Mr. Tory turned 60 this year. He will be 64 by the end of his first term as mayor, and 68 at the end of his second if he chooses to seek it and wins. If he is going to make a difference, this is his time.
All of that history was hanging in the air as Mr. Tory presided over his first meeting of city council on Tuesday. He paid tribute to his late father, John A. Tory, and wore one of his ties in his memory. He choked up as he thanked his wife, Barbara Hackett, for her support. He went down on one knee so that his special guest, shooting victim and anti-violence activist Louise Russo, could drape the massive chain of office around his neck from her wheelchair, then drew her close to kiss her cheek.
He even had the grace to thank Rob Ford for his "continued public service" and wish him a speedy recovery. Afterward, he exchanged a fist bump with the former mayor, who was returning to the chamber as an ordinary councillor.
Despite the gravity of the moment, Mr. Tory's mood seemed light for most of the afternoon, and no wonder. It was a big gamble to run for office yet again, at a time of life when many are in the winter of their careers. Losing would have meant the end of his political hopes. Instead, successful at the ballot box, the loser label erased from his forehead, he finds himself leading Canada's largest city.
When one reporter told him, "You've waited a long time for this day," he laughed it off. "Not really," he shot back. "You take it as it comes." Still, it must be an enormous relief. After all that talk about his trip-ups and failings, he at last has a job of work to do. As he put it, "It is just a day when I have an exciting opportunity to make the city better."
Can he? Even though he has spent decades in and around politics, Mr. Tory has never presided over a government. In fact, until Tuesday, he had never been to a city council meeting. That sets him apart from previous mayors, who for decades have come up through council to the mayor's chair.
He acknowledges he has a lot of learning to do, starting with the little things. He fumbled with the city council computer system as he tried to chair the meeting. Why, he demanded, could he not see anything on his screen?
Questions remain about his leadership skills. It is all very well to talk about running a more co-operative, less quarrelsome council, but winning votes and getting your program through is what matters in the end. Is he tough enough to enforce his will, as any political leader must do? Can a man who often seems to want to be all things to all people learn to focus on what he really wants to get done?
Can he fulfill the promise that showed itself so early? We are about to find out.