Mayors behaving badly

Crack smoking, cat killing, fraud: 2013 was a bad year for local lawmakers across North America

Getty Images / QMI / AP

While Toronto’s Rob Ford stole international headlines, across North America, mayors were putting feet in mouths—or worse. Take the mayor of Huntingdon, Que., Steve Gendron, who set his radar on stray cats this summer. “Cats have no business being in the road,” the outspoken mayor told a radio host. “If it’s a stray cat in the road, bang, I accelerate.” He later apologized, saying it was his dark sense of humour. Perhaps that also explains his comment last year that Israel “doesn’t deserve to exist.”

South of the 49th parallel, the naked escapades of Jerramiah Healy, mayor of Jersey City, N.J., got an airing in May’s election campaign. When he was first elected in 2004, Healey attributed a photo of him standing nude on his front porch to a heavy night of drinking. Weeks before the 2013 election, he changed that story, saying three Hispanic women lured him outside, pulled his towel off him and did “filthy” things until he chased them away. Voters did not reward his creativity; he lost his bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, former mayor Bob Filner was revealed to have been very busy, if not on municipal business. Over the summer, the number of women accusing him of sexual harassment climbed to 19. As pressure mounted, Filner resigned.

Part of the problem is that, at the most hands-on level of government, the absence of official political-party affiliations and lack of accountability have let some mayors run amok. Conservative senators embroiled in a spending scandal were suspended, but after Susan Fennell, mayor of Brampton, Ont., expensed more than $186,000 in under three years (including $2,162 for personalized barbecue aprons), she simply met privately with city councillors to discuss reforming how city expenses are managed. In London, Ont., Mayor Joe Fontana is going to trial on fraud charges after allegations he used tax dollars to help pay for his son’s wedding. He’s still in office.

Quebeckers may have had the worst of it. Montreal’s Michael Applebaum promised to clean up local politics when he stepped in as mayor a year ago after Gérald Tremblay resigned amid a corruption scandal. But Applebaum resigned in May when police slapped him with 14 charges, including fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust and corruption. Right next door, Laval’s former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt was charged with gangsterism.

Then there’s Detroit, where former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is heading to prison for 28 years after being convicted of corruption. Federal prosecutors want him to pay Detroit $4.5 million in restitution. Yes, it was a bad year for municipal politics but, on the bright side, maybe they’ll all get their own bobblehead dolls.

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