Opinion

If Toronto council is dysfunctional, don't blame the size — blame Giorgio Mammoliti

The longtime councillor is a master of sparking chaos at public meetings, Matt Elliott writes, but a series of factors may lead to the controversial councillor losing his seat in October's election.

This October, 3 factors may lead to the controversial councillor losing his seat

Giorgio Mammoliti has one of the worst attendance records among councillors, but is still responsible for many of city council's most dysfunctional moments. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

Ever since Premier Doug Ford announced his desire to cut the size of Toronto council, there's been a lot of talk about dysfunction at Toronto city hall — and a lot of that dysfunction can be blamed squarely on one councillor: Giorgio Mammoliti.

He's a master of sparking chaos, and is responsible for some of the most frustrating moments at city hall over the last four years.

At a meeting of the city's public works committee in May, he brazenly and successfully took the $1 billion Finch West light rail project hostage, threatening to leave the meeting and break quorum unless the committee supported his move to delay approval for work on the project.

While those tactics were novel, the behaviour wasn't surprising. He does stuff like this all the time.

Every year, during the city's annual budget debate, he brings forward a slew of motions to do things like cut or cancel major programs (this year, he made a last-minute attempt to eliminate the entirety of the city's anti-poverty program), upload large chunks of city services to the province and procure a floating waterfront casino somehow.

But Mammoliti rarely commissions reports or brings these measures to committee like other councillors do. He's doing it all to put on a show.

Chaos inside and outside of city hall

Mammoliti has been embroiled in a number of recent scandals in recent month, including one the OPP is looking into. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Mammoliti's ability to create dysfunction at council meetings is limited by his attendance record — through to the end of July, he had missed 43 per cent of council votes this term — but he's also got a knack for being at the centre of controversies outside of city hall that often serve as a sideshow distraction to more serious news.

Recently, he made headlines for appearing on far-right Rebel Media for an interview where he called people living in Toronto Community Housing buildings in the Jane-Finch neighbourhoods "cockroaches." In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, community health worker Sabrina Gopaul called the comments "pure racism."

In conversation with the host of a right-wing radio show, Toronto city councillor Georgio Mammoliti refers to drug dealers living in public housing as "cockroaches". That part of the interview has been generating a lot of debate. Two activists from Jane and Finch weigh in on whether their councillor has gone too far. 11:51

That follows a series of public controversies that have made headlines over his multi-decade political career. He removed basketball hoops in his ward in a move he said would reduce drug dealing. He tried and failed to ban electronic dance music at the Exhibition grounds. He ran for mayor on a platform of turning Toronto Island into a red light district. He regularly commissions political cartoons depicting himself as a mighty hero, vanquishing all his enemies.

Beyond the public controversies, Mammoliti has also faced serious charges of unethical behaviour in private. In June of 2014, the city's integrity commissioner ruled that he improperly accepted $80,000 raised through a fundraising dinner. Council voted to dock him three months' pay.

More recently, Mammoliti was involved in a scandal involving the board of directors of the Toronto Parking Authority, after an investigation suggested he pushed for the board to acquire a piece of land at a price $2.6 million higher than its market value. Why? He wanted to install an absurdly-large flagpole on the land. The OPP later confirmed they were investigating the deal.

More Mammoliti? It's not a sure thing

Mammoliti has held municipal office since 1995, and doesn't plan to leave voluntarily any time soon.  He signed up to run in the October 22 municipal election on the day nominations opened.

With long-tenured incumbents often comes a sense of inevitability — a belief they will forever hold office.

But there are three reasons to think Mammoliti could be vulnerable this fall.

First, he won with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote in the last two elections, which may not be enough in this year's race. If the election goes forward with a 25-ward model, he will be up against another long-time incumbent in Anthony Perruzza, as well as Tiffany Ford, a school trustee.

Second, his ward was won by an NDP candidate in June's provincial election, suggesting there might be an appetite for a more progressive local representative.

And he can thank Ford for the third and final one. If, as the premier and others have been saying, the people of Toronto really want a less dysfunctional Toronto council, a change here looks like the obvious place to start.

About the Author

Matt Elliott

Municipal affairs analyst

Matt Elliott has been following, analyzing and delving deep into wonky policy stuff at Toronto city hall since 2010. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @GraphicMatt.

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