MASCOUCHE, Que. - A Quebec mayor who faces several corruption-related charges announced his resignation Friday but insisted his legal woes had nothing to do with the decision.
Richard Marcotte, the top municipal official in Mascouche, told a local newspaper that family-related reasons prompted him to end his 22-year spell in power.
Marcotte has been under intense pressure to resign, particularly since his arrest last spring on charges of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust involving public contracts in Mascouche.
Also charged in the case is construction magnate Tony Accurso, who backed a company that received the majority of contracts in the town, which is located about 40 kilometres north of Montreal.
In a resignation letter given to Le Trait d'Union, Marcotte said he's leaving politics to care for his wife's ailing son. Nearing age 65, he said he decided to put his family first after his lengthy political career.
"They say you need to know when to choose your battles," he said in the letter.
Marcotte has rarely been seen at city council without a police escort in recent months, with residents coming out in droves to call for his removal.
He said it was a privilege to work for Mascouche residents.
"It's still 22 years of my life that I'm leaving behind," Marcotte said.
"If over 22 years, it was public battles that I chose ... today I have decided to focus on the health of my family."
The mayor's corruption-related resignation follows those of Montreal's Gerald Tremblay and Laval's Gilles Vaillancourt in a five-day span at the beginning of November.
Asked about the impact of their abrupt departures on his own decision, Marcotte said it had no effect.
"Mascouche is neither Laval nor Montreal nor any other city," he said. "The situation is not the same, so there is no connection."
Mascouche's interim mayor, Lise Gagnon, told a news conference Friday she hopes to follow Montreal and Laval in having an interim mayor appointed until provincewide municipal elections are held next fall. Marcotte's term was set to run out then.
"We will look in Mascouche for the possibility of an interim mayor until November 2013," Gagnon said.
Marcotte said he waited so long to resign to avoid triggering a premature election that would cost the municipality $200,000.
A spokeswoman for the town of Mascouche said there would be no immediate comment.
In Quebec City, Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault said Marcotte made the right call in stepping down.
"It's a decision that I greet favourably," Gaudreault told reporters. "It's a request that had been expected by numerous citizens in Mascouche, so it's a good decision considering the circumstances."
(Written by Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal)