- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

TORONTO While the world wages a war on terrorism, the mayor of Canada's biggest city has been warming up to the Hells Angels.
Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman was lambasted this week after he was photographed shaking hands with a member of the notorious biker gang.
But, as the city's residents know all too well, their outspoken mayor is no stranger to the occasional gaffe. Over the past few years, he has threatened to kill a pesky reporter, made racist remarks and even begged the Spice Girls not to break up.
The latest torrent of criticism was unleashed when Mr. Lastman met a bulky biker with a goatee in a hotel lobby here on Friday. The two men smiled as more than 400 Hells Angels met nearby for a weekend "convention." Almost all of them, including the man greeted by the mayor, wore crested leather jackets proclaiming their gang affiliation.
"I don't know who the hell the Hells Angels are, but they know of me," Mr. Lastman told reporters at the city hall on Monday, pleading innocence. "I never turn my back on anybody who gives me their hand."
Toronto's police chief was stunned by the news but tried hard not to slam his boss. He condemned the Angels as "a bunch of organized criminals" spending "blood money" as they wined and dined away the weekend. "All the while the Hells Angels are laughing at us," Chief Julian Fantino said, urging residents to forget about the mayor's lapse in judgment and move on.
Torontonians are used to Mr. Lastman's headline-making antics; he has been in the political arena for almost 30 years now. He once sold a refrigerator to an Eskimo as a Guinness Book of Records stunt, generating reams of free publicity for the Bad Boy chain of appliance stores he founded.
He also held the world record for 10 straight terms as mayor of suburban North York before it merged with Toronto. That's more than 25 years in office ample time to stick his foot in his mouth. "The man should be forced to resign," one outraged resident told a local newspaper. "This reads like a 'Sopranos' script with the local corrupt politician visiting the Badda Bing for a photo-op with Tony Soprano."
Reaction from across Canada has been just as harsh especially in the neighboring province of Quebec, where a bloody six-year war between the Hells Angels and a rival gang has killed 160 persons.
"It's like burying your head in the sand," said Joanne Desrochers, the mother of an 11-year-old boy who died when a remote-controlled bomb went off in his neighborhood. "This is a dangerous thing very dangerous." More than a dozen Hells Angels appeared in a Montreal court this week, all charged with murder.
Mr. Lastman himself is no stranger to death threats. In 1999, he threatened to kill a television reporter for asking why the mayor's wife was arrested for reportedly shoplifting a pair of designer jeans. The mayor later apologized, and his wife wasn't charged.
That exchange came after he wrote to pop singer Geri Halliwell ("Ginger Spice"), pleading with her to stay with the Spice Girls so that her fans wouldn't be disappointed. Political pundits and music critics alike wondered if Mr. Lastman had nothing better to do with his time.
Last year, the fast-talking mayor made international headlines for a racist quip during a goodwill tour promoting Toronto's bid to host the 2008 Olympics.

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