After his shocking conviction on three fraud-related charges, Mayor Joe Fontana is stepping down.
Justice Bruce Thomas found Fontana guilty of fraud under $5,000, breach of trust by a public official and uttering a forged document on Friday. Fontana told reporters outside the courthouse that he would make an announcement about his political life in the near future.
That announcement came Monday afternoon when the following statement was released from his office at City Hall:
Please be advised Mayor Fontana is announcing he will resign as Mayor of London. He will hold a Media Conference on Thursday, June 19, 2014.
Mayor Fontana says, “I am taking this step out of respect for the office of the Mayor, the people of London and our judicial system. Over the next two days I will be speaking with fellow Council members and City staff to ensure a smooth transition for whomever takes the interim Mayor’s position.”
Details regarding time and location of the Media Conference will be provided on Thursday morning by email.
Mayor Fontana will not be taking interviews prior to Thursday.
Fontana’s council colleagues reacted quickly to the news.
“I think at this point he’s done the right thing for his family, his future and the city,” said Councillor Stephen Orser, a Fontana ally who called on the mayor to resign after he was convicted on Friday. “I wish his family all the best.”
Who will be London’s next mayor? Council has to figure that out.
Their options include appointing someone to serve until the new council is sworn in after the October 27th election, or having a by-election between now and then. With the general municipal election so close, the by-election option makes little sense.
“My perspective is we should select someone on an ongoing basis for the next five-to-six months as the interim mayor. But the selection would be done from one of the retiring members of council. In other words, they’re not seeking re-election,”said Councillor Paul Hubert when he was asked about who may take over the mayor’s chair.
The councillors who have said they won’t be running for re-election are Joni Baechler, Nancy Branscombe, Dale Henderson and Judy Bryant. Joe Swan has yet to fire his nominations papers for October’s election, but he has said he’s considering a run for mayor.
“I would be willing to help the city in a bit of a difficult time,” said Baechler on AM980’s Andrew Lawton Show on Monday afternoon. “I’m leaving politics, so it’s not something I wanted as a full-time job. I’m happy to assist if I can.”
Baechler agreed with Hubert’s assessment that somebody who isn’t running for office in October should be the interim mayor.
“If you’ve got individuals that are actively running for the mayor’s position or even a position on council, there can be a potential to use the position as a way or garnering votes of greater publicity,” she added. “I think that will just lead to greater discontent on council and I don’t think that’s what we need right now.”
Despite the resignation, some of Fontana’s longtime council allies, including Bud Polhill, say they’ll stand by the mayor.
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s still a friend of mine, I’ll still sit and have a coffee with him,” Polhill said. “I’m not going to run away and hide and say ‘I’m not associating with Joe Fontana ever again’, because you don’t do that to friends. It doesn’t matter what they’ve been accused of doing. I just think you can’t desert your friends when they need you most.”
Polhill said he hoped the mayor would “do the right thing” after the conviction on Friday. He said that’s what the mayor did with Monday’s announcement.