Rob Ford and the Mammoliti Way

I HAD TO LAUGH – a morbid laugh, please note – when I read Robyn Doolittle’s article revealing that a Toronto city manager had tried to keep the hazardous condition of the Gardiner Expressway a secret. You see, long before then I’d walked under it and thought “the Gardiner Expressway is coming down.” You can’t miss it.

Now I learn that Robyn Doolittle has a book Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story which contains “shocking new revelations.” Well, here too I’ve seen the decay — and once again the laughs, or shocks if these are still possible, will come at the public’s expense. It is now widely agreed that Toronto’s mayor is an embarrassment, and that the principle and practice of toadyism above all else govern the operation of his office. Loyalty cannot be taught, the Ford brothers like to say. Buried in that mantra is an invitation to ponder the many things that can be both taught and learned in the rough tumble world of politics.

A good illustration has arrived this week in the form of Giorgio Mammoliti’s latest installment of the agitprop/toad mode of politicking. A walk to his constituency office, in the Carmine Stefano Community Centre, recently provided a chance encounter with a sleeping employee, and from there, through the mayor, an impromptu campaign of malice against the public service. Those of us who’ve traced the career of this career politician have seen over and again how well he marries the grand gestures of a moral crusade to the low, tawdry and self-serving work of servility to powerful political masters.

The operation has served him well, as over the decades Mammoliti has learned the business of testing, and then pitching his sail to, the political winds of a moment. Everything the man does is the outcome of an apparent self-advancing calculation, down to the detail of the Carmine Stefano Community Centre. A long-term frenemy of Ford, against and for him as the occasion demands, Mammoliti cut his scandalous expenses, among which was his former constituency office, in a peace-making and loyalty-proving deal which eventually delivered him into the executive committee. Only a week ago he returned to this body after having resigned last year, when Ford’s fortunes were on a downward course.

The man who was a labour organizer and a provincial NDP politician in 1990 was a reformed anti-communist and anti-union agitator by the Harris years. This could be seen as an indication of personal evolution and thoughtful reconsideration, and perhaps that’s the case: and yet it’s difficult not to see how nicely Mammoliti’s political arc follows the rising and the falling of fortunes. He opposed Rob Ford (and Ford opposed him) until it was evident who would be the next mayor, and then suddenly Mammoliti was Rob Ford’s loudest advocate. The years preceding Ford’s ascent was Mammoliti’s Miller time, demonstrating that if pressed he could fly the Liberal flag, too. In fact there’s only one flag he’s consistently refused to fly, and that is the Rainbow flag. But Pride too may become his opportunity of the moment, and if it does I think I can guess the outcome.

While he was still alive, the Mammoliti supporter and soccer enthusiast Carmine Stefano led a petition to rename an Etobicoke street “Mammoliti Way.” The petition failed, but there’s a Mammoliti Way in Toronto, alright. And it perfectly complements the Ford Way, both being founded on the idea that politics is a family business where the test of loyalty determines everything. Rob Ford represents the boss perspective on this arrangement, Mammoliti the boot licker’s. And yet it must be said that Carmine Stefano was on to something. If the Gardiner Expressway is allowed to decay much longer, it will soon be the fitting emblem of a political rot deeply embedded at Toronto City Hall and promoted by Ford and his hangers-on, chief among them the calculating and conniving Mammoliti. Maybe renaming this crumbling eyesore is how we can honour the man in due fashion.

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