Toronto Fears Mayor Hurts Olympic Bid

ByABC News

June 26, 2001 -- After the revelry, there's always a headache.

That's what the mayor of Canada's most multicultural city, Toronto, learned in the past few days, after his jokes to a reporter caused a public uproar.

Before getting on a plane to Africa earlier this month, to promote his city's Olympic bid, Mayor Mel Lastman said, "What the hell do I want to go to a place like Mombasa [Kenya]?"

"Snakes just scare the hell out of me. I'm sort of scared about going there, but the wife is really nervous. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me."

The remarks were published last week, and since then, critics have been expressing the fear that their outrageous mayor might have cost them their Olympic bid.

"The shocking headline: 'Mayor Mel boiled; Olympic bid foiled,'" said one article in The Montreal Gazette.

Gazette columnist Jack Todd wrote: "Hizzona of Toronna has done it again, and because of Lastman's mouth, Toronto can forget Africa when it comes to the vote next month in Moscow."

Jules Elder, in an editorial in the Toronto Sun, wrote: "The furor that has erupted since the comment became public could contribute to Toronto losing the bid for the 2008 Olympic Games."

The Calgary Herald expressed a similar sentiment in an editorial: "[It] was particularly thoughtless and could cost Canadians the 2008 Summer Olympics."

The speculation was apparent even across the pond: "[His remarks] may well have scuppered the city's chances," remarked London's Financial Times.

Defensive Action

Toronto's officials also recognized the danger and were undertaking damage control.

Over the weekend, Canada's Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray called the comments unfortunate and inappropriate, but hoped they wouldn't do lasting damage to the bid.

He expressed confidence about Toronto's bid and expressed optimism that will carry more weight than Lastman's gaffe.

Lastman apologized for the comments at a news conference on Friday, saying "I did not mean what I said, that's all I can tell you. … I am sincerely and deeply sorry."

He rejected calls for his resignation, and said he would continue his work on Toronto's bid.

"I will be going to Moscow and I will be part of the presentation and ithas not derailed anything, because they understand everybody has their bad days," he said.

Lastman can at least take some comfort from the reaction of Kenya's tourist board, which was more bemused than angry at his statements.

"It sounds like Mayor Lastman is in enough 'hot water' as it is," it said in a statement. "Kenya is renowned the world over for her hospitality, so we're glad he enjoyed his holiday — and the dancing."

The International Olympic Committee is to decide the Games site next month.

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