To paraphrase the poet, what a piece of work is Mammo.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti – Mammo to City Hall buffs – is often described in newspaper stories as colourful, the word that reporters use when they mean goofy. He has advocated turning the Toronto islands into a red-light district. He once took off his shirt in the city council chamber to protest against a nude beach on Hanlan's Point. He has said he wants to "weed out the communists" from Toronto. In his failed run for mayor in 2010, he called for arming bylaw-enforcement officers and spending billions to build a subway down Jane Street, which just happens to run along the border of his York West ward.
Now, like Mayor Rob Ford, Mr. Mammoliti is in the soup over his campaign spending. At a hearing on the matter Monday, an auditor described "questionable" accounting in a shoebox campaign that had "no idea" what its income or expenses were. Mr. Mammoliti attempted to wriggle off the hook by arguing that the violations were (sound familiar?) inadvertent. If he tried his best to stay within the limit but failed, should he really be prosecuted, asked his lawyer at Monday's audit committee hearing. Are you trying to say that the spending limits prescribed by law are mere guidelines, rejoined a skeptical member of the audit panel. It voted to forge ahead with legal proceedings against Mr. Mammoliti for overspending his limit by more than $12,000.
All of this would be of minimal interest if he were simply a harmless blowhard in quest of the next headline. Under Mr. Ford, he has become something more than that.
Mr. Mammoliti began his life in politics as an NDPer. After leading a union chapter of maintenance workers, he won a seat in the provincial legislature in 1990 and served in premier Bob Rae's government. He earned a well-deserved infamy by campaigning against spousal benefits for gay couples, breaking ranks with NDP colleagues on the issue.
At City Hall, he swung further to the right but often clashed with Mr. Ford, who represented a next-door ward in suburban northwest Toronto. Mr. Ford famously called him a "Gino Boy." Mr. Mammoliti launched a human-rights complaint.
But this is a man who always has an eye for the main chance. When Mr. Ford became mayor in 2010, Mr. Mammoliti became his new best friend. Any time the mayor was in trouble, Mr. Mammoliti would appear to argue Mr. Ford's side. He even came down to the City Hall Press Gallery to defend Mr. Ford when a woman accused the mayor of giving her the finger from his car. At city council meetings, Mr. Mammoliti would wrangle votes for the mayor by turning his thumb up or down to signal which way Ford allies should vote. Naturally, that led to the creation of a Twitter account called Mammoliti's Thumb.
If there were ever a fair-weather friend, though, Mr. Mammoliti is it. When an initial court ruling ordered Mr. Ford ousted from office over conflict-of-interest charges, the arch-opportunist promptly quit the mayor's executive committee.
Now that the ruling has been overturned, Mr. Mammoliti is singing a different tune. Last month he was musing about coming back on the Ford Team. Weirder still, he was saying he only quit executive in the first place so he could investigate a shadowy plot to do "personal damage" to him and others. The plotters, he suggested, were tampering with phones and trailing their victims. He has yet to produce any proof.
His antics have done Mr. Ford no favours. It was Mr. Mammoliti who popped up to propose the wildly unrealistic idea of replacing a 2-per-cent property-tax increase in the recent city budget with a tax freeze. When the mayor startled councillors by supporting the idea – effectively voting against his own budget – it overshadowed one of his administration's real achievements.
Mr. Mammoliti has ceased to be an entertaining sideshow act in a mayoralty that produces enough sideshows of its own. If Mr. Ford hopes to move beyond all the goofball eruptions and get back on track, it should steer well clear of him.