By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
London Mayor Joe Fontana has said not only is he innocent of the charges he is facing, but also that the support of residents gives him the mandate to ignore calls for him to step down.
Members of the crowd of approximately 50 protestors who showed up outside the mayor’s media conference on Thursday (Nov. 22) — which took place one day after the RCMP laid a trio of charges against him — would definitely disagree with that perception.
During his 16-minute conversation with reporters, alongside his lawyer, Gordon Cudmore, Fontana defiantly spoke on not only his innocence, but also his intention to remain as mayor. Cudmore said he intends to have Fontana plead not guilty when the time comes.
“I am innocent of all of these charges and I intend to fight as hard as I possibly can to clear my name. I am not stepping aside, I am not going to abandon my post,” Fontana said. “I have a responsibility and obligation given to me by the people of London two years ago. I am confident this council, the community, can come together to complete the work that is requested of us.”
Mike Roy is one member of the community who doubts that can happen. Roy, a longtime supporter of the Occupy London movement, was among the crowd that gathered outside Cudmore’s office, calling — often rather loudly — on Fontana to step down as mayor.
Roy said the atmosphere circling around Fontana is exactly the type of circumstance Occupy was created to fight against.
“Occupy was initially about fighting corporate greed, political and corporate greed and corruption. This is a prime example of that,” Roy said. “A lot of the folks here don’t have a lot of good feelings for Joe.”
Roy said he feels Fontana’s situation represents a clear double standard, one that can be see in how Occupy members were treated back last fall when they were removed from Victoria Park.
“He kicked us out of the park. Some people actually went to jail. So when we see something like this, where someone in a high position such as his . . . well, if I (allegedly) stole $20,000 or $1,700 I would be in jail right now,” Roy said. “This is something we need to stand up to and say we aren’t going to take it anymore. I think general opinion in London is on the same side.”
Alexandra Baron, who described herself as “a homeowner, a business owner, I have been here for 20 years paying my taxes,” said she was concerned by what Fontana’s refusal to step aside could mean for the perception of the Forest City.
“We are in the national news, a national embarrassment at this point. I think the perception of our city is already damaged,” Baron said. “The patent disregard of the feelings of London residents that what is going on now is, at the very least, harmful to London and he should step back.”
Ward 1 Councillor Bud Polhill was the only member of city council to attend Fontana’s media conference. Speaking with reporters afterwards, Polhill — who said he came to hear the mayor “first hand” — believes Fontana’s decision to stay on as mayor doesn’t give the city “a black eye” unless he is ultimately proven guilty of the charges.
Polhill also said while the decision to remain is Fontana’s alone, he doesn’t believe the mayor’s presence will necessarily complicate the approaching budget negotiations, as “Joe is not the one who decides what the budget is.”
Cudmore advised Fontana not to answer numerous questions from the collection of nearly 30 media members in attendance. However, when he did, Fontana would repeatedly speak to the “mandate” given to him by the public.
That support, Fontana said, has been shown to him in many ways as he has continued to handle his responsibilities since the allegations were first brought forward.
“People call me each and every day, tell me they like what I am doing as mayor, that they want me to work as hard as I possibly can with the vision we have all put together.”
None of the charges against Fontana have been proven in a court of law and the battle to clear his name could potentially take up to a year, Cudmore estimated. The mayor does have a Jan. 8 court date, at which point Cudmore said he expects more details to come forward.
Cudmore told the collected media he recognized this particular case will play out in both the court of law and the court of public opinion. In accordance with the presumption of innocent that comes in the court of law, Cudmore said he has advised Fontana to remain silent on details of the case.
However, Cudmore said a vigorous defence is still to come.
“There has been substantial misinformation and speculation in the past several weeks . . . the fact is, the Fontana family paid for the wedding. The allegations at the present pertain to the $1,700 room deposit,” Cudmore said. “I have not seen all the documentations, but what I have seen so far, there is a very valid defence to the allegations.”
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