Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is publicly at odds with a key member of his team again, this time in a he-said, she-said spat with the TTC chair.
The verbal tussle over the approval last week by the transit commission of a 15-year sole-source contract is the latest example of Mr. Ford's difficulty seeing eye to eye with even fiscal conservatives on council. The disagreement – which follows the resignation of budget chair Mike Del Grande – played out in front of media Wednesday when Karen Stintz crashed a news conference in Mr. Ford's office, suggesting it was the only way she could hear what the mayor had to say. Mr. Ford countered by offering to show reporters his cellphone records as proof he had tried to reach the TTC chair.
"Cellphones don't lie," said the mayor in his first public appearance at city hall this week. "I'd be more than happy to show you that I called her, left her a message."
Mr. Ford went public with his beefs Sunday, using his radio show to question the $50-million deal with the operator of the TTC's 65 Gateway outlets, two cafés, two bakeries and eight lottery booths. Mr. Ford called the 10-year deal with a five-year extension "absolutely appalling" and vowed to "get to the bottom" of it.
Sam Davis, head of rival firm International News, came on the show as a guest, saying he would have offered a better deal.
Late Tuesday, Mr. Davis sent a letter to all councillors and TTC commissioners outlining a $46-million counteroffer to run the 65 newsstands that are part of the Gateway deal. The newsstands represent just under $42-million of the Gateway offer.
Ms. Stintz responded to the mayor's radio attack by telling reporters she had tried to address Mr. Ford's concerns about the deal last week, but he never returned her call. Responding to the offer from Mr. Davis, she asked Wednesday for a third-party review to compare the Gateway and International News proposals.
Ms. Stintz and the mayor ended up in the same room Wednesday, but never spoke directly. Ms. Stintz arrived with reporters in an outer room of the mayor's office after seeing messages on Twitter about the hastily called news conference. As she stood behind a row of cameras, waiting for the mayor, she was approached by a member of his staff, who asked, "Why are you here?"
She responded, "What am I doing? I just want to hear what the mayor has to say. I don't hear from him directly."
Asked about the communication breakdown, Mr. Ford said, "I'm not going to get in the weeds."
But he then went on to say he had called Ms. Stintz and transit CEO Andy Byford as soon as he heard about the sole-source deal.
"I'm glad they've seen the light," Mr. Ford said about the commission's decision to do a third-party review, adding he would have preferred a full bidding process. "I'm glad they realize they've made a mistake and they are going to revisit it."
Ms. Stintz cast her actions in a different light, defending the Gateway agreement.
"I stand by the deal that the commission approved. If there is new information that comes to light I will welcome it when it comes," she said. "We are not revisiting anything."
Ms. Stintz – a possible rival for the mayor's job in the next election – denied suggestions that her relationship with Mr. Ford is dysfunctional, describing the disagreement as "a learning moment." and pledging to increase her efforts to communicate with the mayor and his staff.
She did express dismay that the contract had become a political issue. "Moving forward I would hope that if there are concerns, we would have a meeting and discuss them rather than airing them on a radio show," she said.
The results of the third-party evaluation are expected at the next TTC meeting.