POLITICS

Michael Applebaum To Make Statement Amid Demands For His Resignation

06/18/2013 02:03 EDT | Updated 08/18/2013 05:12 EDT
CP
MONTREAL - Montreal has had its second scandal-provoked mayoral resignation in less than a year, with an arrest and criminal charges leading to the departure Tuesday of its interim city-hall boss.

Replacement mayor Michael Applebaum stepped down a day after he was slapped with 14 criminal charges.

He made the announcement in a two-minute statement at city hall. He did not take questions. Applebaum said he's innocent of the charges against him and will work to prove his innocence.

"I will do everything I can to prove the accusations against me are unfounded," Applebaum said.

"I hope you understand that I will put my energy into my defence and my family. This is why I am resigning as mayor of Montreal. It is the responsible thing to do."

He said he hoped to someday regain Montrealers' trust. He conceded that, in the meantime, it would have been implausible to try continuing as mayor.

In making that direct appeal to residents Applebaum committed a quintessentially Montreal linguistic flub, mixing English and French terms with unintended consequences.

"I would like to tell Montrealers that I love them," he began. "I understand their frustration, their deception and their cynicism with the political climate of the last few years."

The word "deception" has an entirely different meaning in French. In the local franglais patois, however, even native English-speakers like Applebaum will sometimes use the term incorrectly when they actually mean to say, "disappointment."

The mistake was not without irony.

Applebaum spent much of his statement combating the notion that he had deceived Montrealers. Seven months after he took office on a promise to fight corruption, Applebaum insisted he had never participated in illegal schemes and said he had achieved successes in cleaning up city hall.

The provincial government welcomed his resignation. It had publicly urged him to quit.

"We salute this decision," said Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault. "We think it's the best decision, under the circumstances."

The city will soon have yet another mayor. A vote at city council is expected next week to pick the person who will hold office until the November election.

Candidacies will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. this Friday, at which time the number of candidates will be determined.

The city's current No. 2 politician is a potential contender for the interim job. Laurent Blanchard, the executive-body chairman, said he'll take the next few days to think about running.

He promised there aren't any skeletons in his closet. He said he's been married for 25 years and driven the same car for the past five.

Blanchard joked, however, that he wasn't going to emulate a failed 1988 U.S. presidential candidate and dare journalists to start digging for dirt.

"You can be sure," Blanchard said, "I will not say like Gary Hart, 'Try to find something.' But I'm sure of who I am and what I think."

Members of city council emerged just before Applebaum's speech to listen to the latest mayor's farewell as it echoed through the hall of honour at city hall.

There was just a smattering of awkward clapping as the man who'd been mayor wrapped up his time at the helm.

A few of Applebaum's staff could be seen wiping away tears as he spoke.

Applebaum became interim mayor in a vote at council last November, after offering to build a multi-party coalition to root out corruption.

His predecessor Gerald Tremblay quit in controversy over rampant malfeasance within their shared political party. Their scandal-soaked Union Montreal party has since been dissolved.

Applebaum entered last year's contest as an underdog but leapfrogged his opponent by winning support from rivals in other parties. He promised those other parties that he would share power and that he would not be running in this November's election.

He was the first Anglo mayor of Montreal in 100 years.

But that history-making reign was torpedoed by his arrest Monday on charges including fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust, and corruption in municipal affairs.

Applebaum's arrest made international news.

The charges against him stemmed from alleged acts that occurred between 2006 and 2011, before he became mayor. While police offered few details, they said the charges related to real-estate projects in the west-end borough Applebaum led.

Police said they believe bribes were paid to influence zoning and permit decisions. They said the transactions were worth "tens of thousands of dollars."

Applebaum was initially silent after the arrest. He left the police station after 10 hours without commenting Monday.

But he vehemently denied the accusation Tuesday.

"I maintain my innocence," he said. "I have every intention to continue to fight, like I always have.

"And I want to be clear: I have never taken a penny from anybody."

In the hours before Applebaum announced his resignation, his chair in the council chamber remained empty during an otherwise typical council meeting.

It was vacant as elected officials discussed municipal matters such as road extensions, damaged sewers and recycling bins.

An untouched glass full of water sat on Applebaum's desk in the room, presumably filled up just in case he might appear.

Outside the chamber, in the building's spacious corridors, the heft of yet another scandal appeared to have already taken a toll, or perhaps compounded an existing one.

"With what's just happened, it proves that we no longer know who to trust," said one city-hall employee, who did not give his name.

"Everyone is a bit dazed, a bit surprised... Some are discouraged."

He said the eyebrow-raising details that have emerged from the ongoing public inquiry into corruption and collusion in Quebec have hurt morale.

Workers have also been rattled by the resulting resignations of former mayor Gerald Tremblay and city manager Guy Hebert, who was Montreal's top unelected employee.

"The sky is heavy. You sense that smiles are not as obvious as before," said the staffer, who added that everyone seemed to be talking Tuesday about Applebaum's arrest.

"Me, personally, I'm looking forward to the next election."

Another city hall employee said that a day after criminal charges were laid against Applebaum, employees continued their work, like usual.

The woman, who declined to give her name, said it's too early to know how his arrest might impact their daily routines.

"What a shame," she said of the charges, as she smoked a cigarette and sipped coffee during her lunch break outside the building.

One veteran councillor, and longtime friend of Applebaum's, said Tuesday that he didn't think the latest scandal to smack city hall would affect regular public services.

Marvin Rotrand, who first encouraged Applebaum to run for public office years ago, said politicking for the city's next interim mayor began Monday, shortly after news broke about his friend's arrest.

"The body isn't even cold and the jockeying has begun," said Rotrand, who has heard as many as six different names being floated as Applebaum's potential replacement.

"One thing is certain, I'm not putting my name forward even if I'm drafted. Being mayor of Montreal has a very short lifespan."

-With files from Alexander Panetta