Joe Fontana has resigned as the mayor of London, and his details have been wiped from the municipal website, but his shadow still looms over the city council he left behind.
Fontana’s resignation came, as promised, on Thursday (June 19), ending his 32-year career in public life. However, it was only on Monday that Fontana issued a statement saying he was planning on making the resignation announcement at a public media conference.
Instead, the resignation was delivered quietly along with news the media conference was being cancelled.
While many people used social media to express disappointment with Fontana’s decision not to stand up in front of the community, several of his now former council colleagues said it was the right decision.
Among those defending Fontana’s decision to fade quietly from the spotlight was now Acting Mayor Joe Swan. Swan, councillor for Ward 3, will preside over an expected special council meeting on Monday (June 23), as well as the regular session the following evening.
Swan said he believes Fontana’s decision was made in the best interest of the community.
“I think he is trying to create a smooth transition while also being respectful of the community,” Swan said. “There are a lot of high emotions involved, so I think this was done with respect and dignity for the office of the mayor. It was the right thing to do.”
Swan also said he believes Fontana has come to the realization that he has left public life behind. And with that in mind, his decision could show the court (sentencing in the case takes place July 15) that he is being “respectful and accountable” for his actions.
“I just think it was the right way for him to go,” Swan said.
Another long-time Fontana ally, Ward 1 Councillor Bud Polhill, agreed it was the right way to handle the resignation announcement. However, he was surprised by the decision.
Polhill said he saw Fontana on Wednesday at city hall, spoke with him firefly, and was under the impression even this morning the media conference would happen at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Clearly, Polhill said, Fontana changed his mind.
“I think there were a lot of people who would have like to see him face-to-face, but if I were him, and with what he has gone through, I wouldn’t want to get beat up anymore either,” Polhill said. “Was it the right choice? I don’t think it was necessarily the right choice, but I certainly understand why he made it.”
Even some of Fontana’s louder critics were generally accepting of how Fontana decided to handle his resignation.
Ward 5 Councillor Joni Baechler, one of the people thought to be among the leading candidates for the interim mayor position council must decide upon next week, said Fontana’s decision “to resign quietly” was the right one.
And while Polhill said he was surprised by Fontana’s decision, Baechler said she thought the fact the media conference was announced without a time or location always seemed somewhat suspicious to her.
“I think he looked at the pulse of this community and decided against having a media conference. I think he realized we are just tired of all this,” Baechler said. “I think that when nobody knew the time and place, well, how likely was it to really happen?”
Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert, said he believes people are trying to “put too fine a point” on the former mayor’s resignation. The decision was made, Hubert said, probably because Fontana realized the “media frenzy” a public announcement would have created.
“I think it was a way to resign with dignity and I agree with that,” Hubert said. “I think he made the right decision and I appreciate his effort to do what was best for the community.”
Ward 3 Councillor Stephen Orser said he takes “no pleasure” in Fontana’s situation and that he understands his long-time friend’s decision. “I wouldn’t want to be put in the crosshairs either.”
Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher was more cautious in his thoughts, saying the choice to hold or cancel the media conference was Fontana’s to make. “I know some in the press would like to have seen more from him, but I can’t comment on his decision. I just feel we need to get on with things.”
Ward 7 Councillor Matt Brown mirrored Usher’s perspective. Brown, who is running for mayor in this October’s municipal election, said the resignation was “in the best interests of London.”
However, as to Fontana’s choosing to submit his resignation rather than deliver it in person, Brown emphasized, “That’s not my focus.”
Ward 11 Councillor Denise Brown said she believes Fontana made the right choice “for him and his family,” adding that he kept his word and resigned. The fashion in which he decided to do so was, for her, less of an issue.
“What difference is it going to make doing it this way or in front of a bunch of people?” Brown said. “I’m OK with how he handled it, this story has been out in front of the public for too long.”