MONTREAL — For the second time in less than a year, a Montreal mayor has stepped down amid corruption scandals ripping through Canada’s second-largest city.
Interim Mayor Michael Applebaum came into office vowing to clean up government. He resigned Tuesday, a day after his arrest on fraud charges. Applebaum denied the accusations and said he needs to focus on fighting them.
Montreal’s first Anglophone mayor in a century took over in November, after Gerald Tremblay resigned amid corruption allegations. Applebaum now faces 14 charges, including defrauding the government and corruption in municipal affairs.
“I want to be clear that I have never taken a penny from anybody,” Applebaum said at a news conference, where he didn’t take questions. “I would like to tell Montrealers that I love them, that I understand their frustration, their deception and cynicism with the political climate of the last few years.”
A high-profile public inquiry in Quebec province has uncovered links between the construction industry and organized crime.
Officials have offered few details on the charges against Applebaum but said they relate to real estate projects between 2006 and 2011, when he served as borough mayor.
After his arrest on Monday, local politicians and the provincial government called on him to step down. “I don’t think he really has a choice,” Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said in response to a reporter’s question.
The Quebec government on Tuesday urged city councilors to ensure a smooth transition as they choose someone to run the city until the next election, set for November. Applebaum had already promised not to run.
Signs of trouble arrived soon after he took office. Anti-corruption officials raided City Hall in February. They also targeted offices in various boroughs, including the one Applebaum represented for many years.
Applebaum and his predecessor, Tremblay, were part of the same political party, Union Montreal, which dissolved last month. Richard Bergeron, the leader of the opposition Projet Montreal party, said the city council has to look to someone not affiliated with Union Montreal to lead the city on an interim basis.
“We have just gone through another episode in the horror story,” Bergeron said. “Let’s hope this is the last episode.”
Michel Nadeau, executive manager at the Montreal-based Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations, said the city’s next leader faces a major challenge in rebuilding public trust.
“We will debate over the next few months about the importance of credibility and honesty and integrity,” Nadeau said.
In the neighboring province of Ontario, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is embroiled is his own scandal, amid allegations that the leader of Canada’s largest city appeared in a video smoking crack cocaine. The video has not been released publicly.