A city official was going about his business when the phone rang. "Hello, it's John Tory," said the voice on the line. Flummoxed, the official paused. "The one that's the mayor, yes," said the voice.
Mr. Tory had been plowing through a thick binder of staff reports when he came across something that piqued his interest. It was the official's report about a charge the city was levying on a developer for taking up a lane on a busy street to make room for construction.
Mr. Tory was interested because he is on a campaign to reduce road congestion. As part of his six-point plan, he is considering higher fees for developers who take over lanes next to their construction sites. He wanted to check whether the $32,000 charge was just for a six-month extension or for the whole span of the closing, which began two years earlier.
Mr. Tory is a details man. It is just one of the many things that set him apart from the guy who occupied the mayor's office before him.
Rob Ford often rolled into the office late. Mr. Tory is usually the first one in, the one who turns on the lights. Mr. Ford kept a stack of chocolate bars on a bookshelf in his office. Mr. Tory has a shelf of binders.
Mr. Ford did not put out a daily schedule, leaving reporters – and often his own staff – to wonder where he was and what he was up to. Mr. Tory's staff send out an itinerary showing exactly where he will be, and when.
It's too early to say whether Mr. Tory will be a successful mayor. But, two months into his four-year tenure, it is hard not to be impressed by his energy, his work habits and his simple curiosity.
Mr. Ford lacked any trace of that last quality. He knew it all. When he stood in city council to deliver one of his trademark rants, his facts were frequently all wrong. It often became obvious that he had not even read the staff report explaining whatever outrageous expenditure or foolish measure he was condemning.
Mr. Tory reads everything. The mayor rises at about 5:30 a.m. in his Bloor Street condo. He catches up on the news on his iPad. He takes the subway to work and gets in at 6:35 a.m., arriving just in time for the City Hall café to open and sell him his morning coffee, a medium-sized bold.
He spends the quiet time before a 7:30 a.m. staff meeting poring over reports and leafing through those loose-leaf binders. They are massive things, six inches wide along the spine, arrayed on a shelf in his office overlooking Nathan Phillips Square.
The other day, Mr. Tory consumed a binder from one of city hall's many committees, Scarborough Community Council, marvelling at how much time is taken up with disputes between neighbours about fences. "I read it all," he says. "Every page."
He often marks up the reports as he goes, making notes about questions to ask. Staff reports include the phone number and e-mail of the official in charge. Instead of passing his question down the bureaucratic ladder, Mr. Tory will sometimes save time by contacting the startled official directly.
Going over a report from the Toronto Public Library recently, he noticed "an obscure fact." Revenue from late fees had plunged. The reason: Library users are borrowing more e-books. When e-books come due, they simply disappear from the borrower's device. So: no late fees. Mr. Tory e-mailed the official to ask if the library was considering how to make up for the lost revenue as the popularity of e-books rises. "We have to think ahead," he says.
He insists he is not micromanaging. He doesn't want to tell people how to do their jobs. He is just, well, curious.
As the first mayor in a very long time with no experience on city council, he has a lot to learn and he knows it. After the oblivious certainty of the last mayor, that is enormously refreshing.