In the days leading up to Tuesday’s budget finale, they beseeched each other to include their cherished services on a list that could be rescued in one dramatic vote.
The centre, left- and right-leaning councillors who coalesced into a force mighty enough to scuttle Mayor Rob Ford’s budget cuts often used a dramatic metaphor for the intense negotiations.
Each was walking up to a lifeboat and saying: “Save my child!” while others figured out how much the service would cost in terms of budget surplus dollars and ill-will that could cost them a majority in the Hail Mary vote.
“We kept saying if we put too many people in the lifeboat it will capsize,” said Councillor Shelley Carroll, the former budget chief who was among 23 to vote in favour of the surprise omnibus motion, swamping Ford’s 21 allies.
“Children” that didn’t make it into the boat, like Sarah Doucette’s fight to save the High Park Zoo, were put forward as separate, individual motions.
The mutiny started weeks ago, before Christmas, as centrist councillors and their frequent adversaries on the left separately plotted. About two weeks ago, rookie centrists including Josh Colle, Ana Bailão, Josh Matlow and Mary-Margaret McMahon reached out to their sometime adversaries.
Carroll and the others on the left, who had pooled their staff resources to create notes analyzing cuts to various departments, were receptive. Furious negotiations erupted through BlackBerry messages, shared online Google documents and meetings in and out of City Hall.
They reached right to conservatives and got a hearing from many and eventual support from two: Gloria Lindsay Luby, whose residents had given hear an earful about cuts, including mechanical leaf collection in her ward, and James Pasternak, a usual Ford ally worried about the budget’s impact on the poor.
“It was exactly how city hall should work — people coming together out of shared concerns for their city and figuring out, creatively, how we can make it better in a fiscally responsible way,” Matlow said.
Councillors communicated directly to each other, many sidelining their own staff to keep secret the delicate conversations on how to thwart cuts to pools, arenas, TTC service, homeless shelters, daycares and more.
At the same time, Ford’s staff was trolling the hallways of City Hall’s second floor, looking for votes for his proposed budget and trying to dismantle any consensus to dip into the $154 million surplus.
Those crafting the omnibus motion got a scare when a note was accidentally printed on purple paper. Councillor Doug Ford spotted opponents sharing the document during the budget committee wrapup and sounded the alarm because purple is reserved for confidential council documents.
They worked through the weekend, refining the numbers, counting the votes, and were confident Tuesday morning when Colle unleashed the motion to restore $15 million in spending.
But Ford allies tried all day to swing a vote or two their way and coalition members feared their majority had slipped away. Pasternak got frequent visits from Councillor Jaye Robinson and was summoned to a backstage meeting with Ford himself.
“I should have a StairMaster here to ward off all the stress,” Pasternak said with a chuckle, adding Ford “offered me very constructive encouragement” but, in the end, they agreed to disagree.
Coalition members whooped with joy at the 23-21 vote Tuesday evening, and the grins stayed put as council approved a further roughly $5 million in spending to prevent other cuts.
“This spirit of compromise,” Pasternak said, “is why Toronto is such a great city.”
How councillors coalesced to defeat Rob Ford
Edited by mentalfloss, 18 January 2012 - 06:39 AM.