Montreal mayor resigns: 'It is the responsible thing to do'

MONTREAL – Montreal has its second mayoral resignation in less than a year.

Interim mayor Michael Applebaum stepped down Tuesday, a day after he was slapped with a series of criminal charges.

He made the announcement in a two-minute statement at city hall. He did not take questions. Applebaum said he’s innocent of the charges against him and will work to prove his innocence.

“I will do everything I can to prove the accusations against me are unfounded,” Applebaum said.

“I hope you understand that I will put my energy into my defence and my family. This is why I am resigning as mayor of Montreal. It is the responsible thing to do.”

In a message to people of the city, Applebaum said: “I would like to tell Montrealers that I love them — that I understand their frustration, their (disappointment) and their cynicism with the political climate of the last few years.”

He said he hoped to someday regain Montrealers’ trust. But he conceded that, in the meantime, it would have been implausible to try continuing as mayor.

The provincial government had explicitly urged him to resign after he was arrested and subjected to 14 criminal charges.

Earlier Tuesday, the city’s No. 2 politician said the mayor was working on his statement with a lawyer.

“There are legal questions to settle. Mr. Applebaum, as a result of what happened yesterday, is consulting a lawyer,” said Laurent Blanchard, the city’s executive committee chairman.

“And the lawyer wants to ensure that the statement respects all the conditions that must be taken into account.”

Applebaum became interim mayor in a vote at council last November, upon offering to build a multi-party coalition to root out corruption.

He was replacing Gerald Tremblay, who had quit amid controversy over rampant corruption within their shared political party.

Applebaum entered last year’s contest as an underdog but he leapfrogged his rival by winning support from rivals in other parties. He promised those other parties that he would not be running in the upcoming municipal election, which is scheduled for November.

Applebaum was the first Anglo mayor in Canada’s second-biggest city in 100 years.

But his reign was torpedoed by his arrest Monday on charges including fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust, and corruption in municipal affairs. Applebaum’s arrest made news internationally.

The charges against him stemmed from alleged acts that occurred between 2006 and 2011, before he became mayor.

While police offered few details, they said the charges related to real-estate projects in the west-end borough Applebaum led.

Police said they believe bribes were paid to influence zoning and permit decisions. They said the transactions were worth “tens of thousands of dollars.”

Applebaum was initially silent after the arrest. He left the police station after 10 hours without commenting Monday. But he vehemently denied the accusation Tuesday.

“I maintain my innocence,” he said.

“I have every intention to continue to fight, like I always have. And I want to be clear: I have never taken a penny from anybody.”

The scandal-soaked political party Applebaum and Tremblay both belonged to, Union Montreal, was dissolved last month.