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New Toronto budget chief calls for tax freeze - then backs off

Toronto Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, photographed during a committee meeting on Feb. 05, 2013, has been named the new budget chief.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

As he was swarmed by reporters for the umpteenth time, new Toronto budget chair Frank Di Giorgio said with a laugh, "It's my first day, guys, give me a break. No more numbers, no more numbers."

Having laid claim to a key post in Mayor Rob Ford's cost-cutting agenda, the councillor will have to get used to all the scrutiny.

Mr. Di Giorgio, the Ward 12 York South-Weston representative, was named budget chair Tuesday and immediately made headlines by saying he would freeze property rates and trim the land-transfer tax in time for next year's election – comments he was later forced to take back.

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"No, I'm not calling for a freeze," Mr. Di Giorgio said. "It would be irresponsible for me to call for a freeze at this point. But I will be huddling with … the mayor and staff to see where they want to go and then we'll go from there."

After Mr. Di Giorgio initially announced plans to reduce the land-transfer tax, the Toronto Real Estate Board issued a statement saying it looked forward to working with him on that task.

The councillor, however, later said a decision on the tax has not been made.

"There's no clarity as to what I've been asked to do, other than examine certain things, like what's the likelihood of doing something with the land transfer tax, what's the likelihood of coming in at – let's say if [the mayor] says to me zero-per-cent tax increase," he said. "I think those are far-fetched ideas, but I will look at them."

Mr. Di Giorgio, who has represented his ward since 2000 but rarely draws the attention of the city hall press, was already a member of both the budget committee and the mayor's powerful executive committee.

"He's been very, very loyal to our administration," the mayor said. "I know he is going to do a fantastic job. He understands the value of a tax dollar and that's the most important aspect of being a budget chief."

Before the mayor won his appeal last month of a court decision that could have removed him from office, Mr. Di Giorgio was one of a few councillors to say the mayor deserved to be reappointed if he lost his job.

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Mr. Ford first raised the possibility of Mr. Di Giorgio – or "Franko," as he called him – as budget chair during his radio show Sunday. The mayor noted both he and Mr. Di Giorgio ran for council in 1997 and lost, then ran again in 2000 and won.

The two men have shared another title – high-school football coach. Mr. Di Giorgio, a former math teacher at Humberside Collegiate in the city's west end, coached championship teams in 1969, 1971 and 1973.

"It was a very memorable time," he said. "The running joke is everything [the mayor] knows about football I taught him."

Mr. Di Giorgio graduated from McMaster University in mathematics and the University of Western Ontario Business School. He has two children, a daughter who is finishing law school, and a son who is studying to be an engineer.

The councillor, who chuckled often during his media sessions Tuesday, did maintain some modicum of privacy however, declining to tell reporters his age.

Councillor Jaye Robinson said she has known Mr. Di Giorgio for years and though she described him as quiet and "not a household name," she said he is deeply invested in the city and knows how to manage a portfolio.

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Councillor Adam Vaughan, however, said that while Mr. Di Giorgio is a gentleman and focuses on his ward, he hasn't taken a leadership role in the past.

"He ain't that Frank," Mr. Vaughan said.

Mr. Di Giorgio will replace Mike Del Grande, who resigned as budget chair last month after the mayor went against his own budget and voted in favour of a long-shot bid to freeze taxes.

When asked how he would describe himself and the life he's led, Mr. Di Giorgio said, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

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