John Tory has dismantled persona he spent his career building

Well, holy mackerel. Did anyone see this coming?

Friday night, the city learned of John Tory’s former relationship with a former staffer — and then suddenly he was the former mayor.

Of all the “serious error in judgment” possibilities one might have imagined coming from Mayor John Tory’s office, a relationship with a staff member in his office who multiple sources have told the Star is less than half his age was a prospect no one was bothering to offer odds on.

A business entanglement? Maybe. A bad policy decision? Sure.

But this is a shock. Mayor John “Bland Works” Tory, who has spent decades developing a reputation as the walking personification of pablum, who often spoke with apparent devotion of the wife he has been with since the disco era, who was swept into office eight years ago on the promise of ending the three-ring circus of personal drama hijacking city business that had defined the Rob Ford era …

That guy has a personal life scandal suddenly drive him from office?

Yes, he did. Tory said the relationship “did not meet the standards” he holds himself to, or that people expect. “As a result, I have decided I will step down as Mayor so I can take the time to reflect on my mistakes and to do the work of rebuilding the trust of my family,” Tory said at a press conference. He took no questions.

For Torontonians, the revelations and the resignation come together, all of a sudden, just months after they’d overwhelmingly elected Tory to a historic third term, after he’d asked for and accepted unprecedented new strong mayor powers, and just a week before the climax of a city budget process he has controlled in a way no other mayor previously has.

And it throws the city’s government and political situation into disarray.

Immediately, it appears that Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie will serve as acting mayor. And then, council will need to declare the seat vacant and schedule a special mayoral election. Given that the term is only months old and has almost four full years remaining in it, it seems almost certain an election will be called. Which means, once again, that Toronto residents get to decide where to go from this crossroads, now with full knowledge of the strong mayor minority-governing power the office is equipped with.

There aren’t any obvious frontrunners for the job at this point. Most candidates who were considered potentially viable last year bowed out due to Tory’s perceived strength, and most who might have been thinking about a 2026 run haven’t begun positioning themselves for it yet.

But there’s lots of time — well, weeks of time — for the race to be the next mayor to shape up. Today we’re still in the midst of shock at the way the suddenly former mayor is leaving.

Tory lawyer Peter Downward’s letter to the Star Friday evening, sent in response to questions, was stern in advising against invading anyone’s privacy and warning of the potential for “false and harmful insinuation in this matter.” Tory asked his privacy and that of his family be respected.

So I will not speculate — and frankly do not want to, as I have no desire to know about the romantic details of the mayor’s life, as I’m sure many of you do not. Here is what I know: the Star asked questions about a particular 31-year-old former advisor to Tory, his lawyer responded with a letter, and then the mayor made a speech in which he acknowledged a “relationship” that had developed with a staff member of the mayor’s “during the pandemic” at a time when the mayor was spending much time apart from his wife. Tory said that “during the relationship,” the employee decided to pursue work outside city hall. He called the relationship a “serious error in judgment.” He said the relationship ended by mutual consent earlier this year.

Many of us will feel sympathy for the effects this will no doubt have on his marriage. Many will raise eyebrows over the apparent age gap in the relationship (though clearly both are full-grown adults). If that were all that there was to it, perhaps most of us would consider it none of our business.

It is that the relationship appears to have begun while she was working as his employee that raises serious questions. He was the most powerful man in the city government and she was his direct employee. In recent years that kind of power imbalance has come to be understood to be a serious problem for any prospect of developing a romantic relationship, making questions of legitmate consent and possible harassment so muddy as to be impassable.

In his remarks, Tory acknowledged it was inappropriate. Which is why he suddenly quit — making the fallout all of our business.

Taking a step back, it appears Tory’s fateful decision to run for a historic third term (something he famously promised his wife he would not do) in order to cement his legacy has instead led to a systematic dismantling of some of the most core elements of the public persona he has spent four decades building.

His whole persona as a politician and public personality was constructed on being the great moderate consensus-seeker, and yet we learned days after he won the election that he’d sought and received dictator-like powers to ram through legislation over the objections of a majority of council.

He long presented himself as a model of upright moderation in all things, a devoted husband, and has often proclaimed himself a beacon of honesty and transparency — yet it is an apparently inappropriate relationship he kept hidden from the public that has now become news.

He ran for mayor initially, more than anything else, on the promise of an end to personal scandals at City Hall, and yet… well, here we are.

And there he goes — headed for the door just months into what was to be his record-setting third four-year term.

And now the city is left to figure out what this means for the leadership of Toronto and its future, especially after the super-strong mayor powers have just been granted and justified by the current mayor’s upright character and rock-solid judgment.

During the last election campaign, while John Tory was asking for a third term on a platform of stability, he was keeping both the existence of this relationship and the pending grant of new super-stong-mayor powers to himself.

The electorate might suddenly be thinking that they, like the mayor they elected, made an “error of judgment.” But voters then didn’t know what was coming, because he didn’t tell us.

Now that he has, we’re left to wrestle with the judgment about what we do next.

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