Josh Colle hears it all the time: "You've got to pick a team."
But as the rookie councillor for Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence sees it, reality is the other way around.
The ideological teams on council have got to pick him and the handful of other councillors who've managed to remain independent in the fiercely partisan atmosphere Rob Ford, his supporters and his opponents have created at Toronto City Hall, where political parties are officially banned.
That's why Mr. Colle is trying to build a "Mighty Middle" that could, at the very least, corral enough votes to persuade the left and right to compromise more often.
"You look at the numbers on council and the way the votes are kind of shaking out, and a nice, middle, reasonable central voice could really make a difference," he said.
Mr. Colle has been chatting informally with some of the other freshmen about how the middle-dwellers can use their sway to make council function better. He's eyeing a few veterans too, namely Etobicoke's Gloria Lindsay Luby and Scarborough's Chin Lee and Raymond Cho.
"We have been meeting, having lunch or going out for a drink," said Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, an enthusiastic backer of the Mighty Middle concept. "Instead of people trying to pick us up, we would just lead and hopefully attract people ... we always say we're loyal to good ideas."
Last week's council battle over dumping the remaining members of the Toronto Community Housing Corp.'s embattled board made it clearer than ever who those middle men and women might be: Rookies Ana Bailao, Josh Matlow, Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson, along with Mr. Colle and Ms. McMahon.
While the mayor's camp passed out a voting cheat sheet - augmented by the occasional emperor's thumb up or down from Ford ally Giorgio Mammoliti - and the left prepared a detailed alternative to a TCHC clean sweep, these half a dozen or so councillors struck out on their own, voting with Mr. Ford on some amendments and the left on others.
Through most of the voting, the mayor, his influential brother and their political staff controlled 24 or 25 votes, the left 18 or 19.
But when Shelley Carroll, de facto leader of the left, moved a two-part motion recommending the TCHC post some staff expenses to the Web and allow all purchases greater than $1,000 to be reviewed, council voted 22-21 in favour, despite Mr. Ford's strategy sheet recommending "no to all" Ms. Carroll's motions.
Four councillors made the difference: Ms. Lindsay Luby, Mr. Colle, Ms. McMahon and Ms. Berardinetti, a member of Mr. Ford's executive.
Mr. Ford's archenemy, Adam Vaughan, also managed to get through a motion requiring the TCHC to make public any meetings between interim managing director Case Ootes and lobbyists.
This time, three more councillors joined the rebel four: Chin Lee, Ford insider Denzil Minnan-Wong and Ms. Robinson, also a rookie and at-large member of the executive committee. The motion carried 25-18.
Still, veterans like Ms. Lindsay Luby warn the freshman not to get too excited about the might of the middle. "Good luck," she said. "It'll be like herding cats."
Mr. Matlow, for example, is apprehensive about organizing the centrists. "There's not a clubhouse, there's no membership cards," he said. "And certainly no caucus. And I don't believe that even those of us are seen to be in the middle will always vote with each other."
The paradox of the independents on council has always been that they cling too fiercely to their independence to make much of an impact. There's a reason they've been called mushy, not mighty - a description Mr. Colle and his allies aim to change.
The Middle March
Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence)
Better to be mighty than mushy, figures Mr. Colle, who coined "Mighty Middle" to describe his effort to organize independent councillors.
Ana Bailao (Ward 18 Davenport)
Adam Giambrone's successor voted with the mayor to kill the vehicle tax, but has sided with the left on key items since.
Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32 Beaches-East York)
The newbie who squashed Beaches Queen Bee Sandra Bussin is a mystery. She seconded the Doug Holyday notice-of-motion demanding the rest of the TCHC board be canned, then voted with the left on some amendments.
Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul's)
The quintessential centrist, Mr. Matlow is apprehensive about organizing the middle. He fears it could impede his cherished independence.
Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest)
This rookie may be on Mr. Ford's executive committee, but she's not afraid to break ranks now and then.
Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West)
The other rookie on the executive committee, Ms. Robinson occasionally votes against the mayor.