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 an 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 brief statement at city hall. He did not take questions.
Applebaum says 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.”
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 – that 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 occasionally use the term incorrectly when they mean to say, “disappointment.”
The mistake was not without irony. Applebaum spent part 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 explicitly urged him to resign.
“We salute this decision,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault.
“We think it’s the best decision, under the circumstances.”
Earlier Tuesday, the city’s No. 2 politician said the mayor was working on his statement with a lawyer.
“There are legal questions to settle. Mr. Applebaum, as a result of what happened yesterday, is consulting a lawyer,” said Laurent Blanchard, the city’s executive committee chairman.
“And the lawyer wants to ensure that the statement respects all the conditions that must be taken into account.”
Applebaum became interim mayor in a vote at council last November, upon offering to build a multi-party coalition to root out corruption.
He was replacing Gerald Tremblay, who had quit amid controversy over rampant corruption within their shared political party.
Applebaum entered last year’s contest as an underdog but he leapfrogged his rival by winning support from rivals in other parties. He promised those other parties that he would not be running in the upcoming municipal election, which is scheduled for November.
Applebaum was the first Anglo mayor in Canada’s second-biggest city in 100 years.
But his reign was torpedoed by his arrest Monday on charges including fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust, and corruption in municipal affairs. Applebaum’s arrest made news internationally.
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 relate 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.”
The scandal-soaked political party Applebaum and Tremblay both belonged to, Union Montreal, was dissolved last month.
© 2013 The Canadian Press