Mayor Ford’s go-to guy was on the ball when the Gardiner was crumbling
Judging by his response to pieces of concrete falling from the Gardiner Expressway, Mark Towhey can handle a crisis and is a credit to his boss.
My colleague Robyn Doolittle reported Friday that documents obtained by The Star under freedom of information revealed Ford’s office was told the same thing by city staff as the public: That everything was under control, when it really wasn’t.
After a third chunk of concrete fell from the Gardiner onto the road below in a two-week period last May, a meeting with city staff was convened in the mayor’s office, where staff said that concrete separating from a larger mass was nothing to worry about.
Towhey, a policy advisor to Ford at the time (and his current chief of staff), was among those who was not reassured.
He asked for a series of safety measures including inspections of all sidewalks, crosswalks and areas around the expressway where pedestrians would be at risk. If they couldn’t be made safe within four days, Towhey wanted them closed.
He suggested overhead hazard signs, temporary pedestrian crossings and requested that the entire underside of the Gardiner be inspected in three weeks or less.
Before the end of the day, he demanded a full status update, a 48-hour strategy, a list of deployed resources, information on additional incidents, a contingency plan to manage traffic if the road needed to be closed, a communications plan and a process for police and city workers to report any concrete found on the road.
Towhey’s emails to staff show that Ford’s office would support any measures were needed to shore up the Gardiner, and that there was “political will” to pursue an aggressive timeline.
“We would like to stretch our capabilities to get this done ASAP,” Towhey wrote. “If it is impossible, please let us know why today. If it is merely extremely difficult – let us know anything we can do politically to help expedite the process to achieve these timings. If you can do it faster – please do.”
You couldn’t ask for a better response from the mayor’s office, in terms of offering support to staff and making it clear that public safety was the key priority.
There are legitimate concerns about the way it was handled by staff, and explanations from them that may have downplayed risks, but Towhey was on top of it, asking all the right questions and conveying a serious sense of urgency.
Now that we know a lot more about the crumbling state of the expressway, his response seems prescient.
A mayor is only as good as the people he hires to advise him. If he listens to them, chances are he won’t regret it.
It makes me think that if Ford had listened more closely to Towhey, and followed his advice, he wouldn’t be appealing an order to remove him from office.