Romano strikes back at local ‘gutter politics’ (3 photos)

Insinuations that he doesn’t live in the Sault are false and are affecting his family, Romano insists

Ross Romano, seeking re-election as Sault Ste. Marie’s MPP, is lashing out against what he says is a “completely inappropriate” smear campaign implying he doesn’t live in the riding he represents.

“People are calling us, saying that NDP door-knockers are coming to their home in the last three days and telling them that I don’t live in Sault Ste. Marie,” Romano said during a SooToday interview on Friday.

“I use the word ‘gutter politics’ but honestly it’s far beneath gutter politics – what they’re doing right now,” he said.

“I had my youngest son, seven years old… come home quite full of anxiety, saying: ‘Daddy, one of the girls in my class said you’re going to lose your job because somebody knocked on her door and told her that you don’t live in Sault Ste. Marie.”

Misinformation about Romano’s living arrangements has circulated in the Sault since May 2019, when his wife Heather-Ann Mendes was appointed a judge and assigned to the Ontario Court of Justice in Greater Sudbury.

If nothing else, the couple’s subsequent efforts to juggle three active boys, two demanding careers and one grueling pandemic are a story of complexity.

Justice Mendes moved to Sudbury, but both she, Romano and the kids returned to the Sault on weekends.

“I absolutely do not live in Sudbury. I state unequivocally that I have never lived a day of my life in Sudbury,” Romano insists.

Those spreading rumours have no idea of the pain they’re causing, he says. 

“It’s really inappropriate. I made the decision to put my name on a ballot. But Heather didn’t and my kids didn’t.”

“I don’t think [the provincial New Democrats] realize their actions have consequences beyond just trying to run a smear campaign.”

“It’s not just a press release. They have media ads running that suggest Sault Ste. Marie deserves a full-time MPP, which is clearly a reference to this living arrangement.”

“They’re trying to continually advance something they know to be false. And they’re doing it at the doors, telling people that I live in Sudbury. It’s affecting my family and it’s completely inappropriate.”

“I can handle it because I put my name on a ballot. But when it starts to affect my kids…. It’s as if my wife’s not allowed to have a successful career of her own,” Romano said.

The provincial New Democrats issued a couple of news releases over the past week, questioning whether Romano really lived in the Sault.

In a long invoice of expense payments between Queen’s Park and Romano’s principal residences in the Sault, they found one that recorded his home as being in Sudbury. 

Here’s how Romano explained that to SooToday. 

It’s actually an extraordinary tale of two adults with demanding out-of-town jobs and three young boys, trying to carve out some semblance of work-life balance:

“After Heather first got the appointment and once school started in September, Heather and the kids were living in Sudbury. She would get in the car and drive to Sault Ste. Marie every Friday.”

“She would drop me off at the airport on Sunday. Usually it was about a 2 p.m. flight. And then she would drive to Sudbury and I would fly from Sault Ste. Marie to Toronto. We would do that every weekend.”

“At some point in time I learned that I could fly from Sudbury later. So we decided then that I would drive, I would drive in the car with her to Sudbury, and then she would drop me off at the airport in Sudbury and I would fly [during the evening] from Sudbury back to Toronto.

“And then I would fly back to Sault Ste. Marie on the Thursday night, as I had to do because I needed to spend at least one day a week in the constituency office on Fridays.”

“So there was a period where I started to fly out of Sudbury on Sunday nights, but Heather would drive to Sault Ste. Marie still on Fridays and then drive me to the airport, so at least we got three hours in the car.”

“We always returned home. Our principal residence was Sault Ste. Marie, even though we were only there Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday during the day.”

“Heather and the kids spent the week in Sudbury, while I spent the week in Toronto from Sunday night until Thursday night.”

Romano told us the months when he got an extra three hours with his boys in the car are some of his best memories:

“You get to play ‘I spy with my little eye,’ you count the road signs, you judge the distance between cars and you sing songs.”

“That was the way I was able to maximize what limited time you have when you’re in elected life. I tried to maximize every minute I could get with my kids and my wife.”

“We made it work. This is what you have to do.”

“People would see me and my wife and kids in the mall having lunch in the food court every Saturday. And on Sunday, for a period, she would drive me to the airport.”

And then came the pandemic. Everything shut down. Judge Heather came to the Sault with the boys until things re-opened.

At that point, the Romano family schedule became even more complicated because schools were closed in Sudbury but not in Sault Ste. Marie.

The arrangements then involved Heather taking the kids to Toronto, leaving them there with her parent for a week, then return from Sudbury to pick them up to drive them to Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday. 

Romano’s parents would then take over home-schooling for the following week, after which the boys returned with Heather to Toronto, who then drove to Sudbury for a full work week. 

“She did that for 12 consecutive weeks leading into June. It was the beginning of the pandemic that led Heather to put in for a transfer.”

“We had absolutely no background or support network in Sudbury. Her family was in Toronto, I and my family were in Sault Ste. Marie. That’s why she applied for a transfer and ultimately transfered back to Sault Ste. Marie early in June of 2021.”

“At the end of it all, my kids spent one full year at a school in Sudbury, and Heather did one year in Sudbury.” 

Meanwhile, Heather and Ross were building a new family residence in the Pointes neighbourhood of Sault Ste. Marie.

They had been living in a handsome three-bedroom home on Spring Street at Wellington East.

They found a buyer for that place, and Ross moved into the first floor of an adjacent house at 509 Wellington that he’d bought as a rental property.

He sold the second house about a month later, and struck a deal with the new owner allowing him to rent it until he and his family were able to move into their new principal residence in the Pointes area in February, 2021.

Most of Romano’s belongings were in storage at this time, so furnishings at the Wellington Street place were rather spartan. 

With his wife working in Sudbury, the provincial cabinet minister was known to work on government business late into the night, sometimes dining alone on tinned ravioli.

The New Democrats also issued couple of news releases last week criticizing Romano for accepting  $5,100 since 2019 from the Sault Ste. Marie Conservative Riding Association for a $300-a-month downtown parking spot.

Asked by SooToday to explain that, here’s what he told us:

“I work four days a week in Toronto. Since becoming a minister, I would have to get to and from my condo to my office, which is at least a 30-minute walk.”

“And so instead of walking 30 minutes or expensing cabs every day, or public transit: We actually did the math and a public transit token is $3. Public transit would have been twice as much money as parking fees. So I expense my parking spot in my condo so I can get to and from my job.” 

Is Romano considering complaining about the insinuation campaign to Elections Ontario or seeking other legal remedies?

“I did ask for an apology. There really wasn’t one,” he tells SooToday.

“I think what happened here was extremely offside.”

“I can’t say that rules were not broken, but I don’t want to do anything other than just focus on getting elected on June 2.”

“There’s still a lot of work to be done. That is my focus.”

When Romano faced McCleave-Kennedy in the 2018 provincial election, he won by just 414 votes.

Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrats since 2018 and leader of the province’s official opposition since 2018, is determined to get McLeave-Kennedy elected this time and is scheduled to make a campaign whistle-stop in Sault Ste. Marie today (Saturday). 

The provincial election will take place next Thursday, June 2.

Candidates seeking election in Sault Ste. Marie are:

  • Keagan Gilfillan, Green Party of Ontario
  • Liam Hancock, Ontario Liberal Party
  • Michele McCleave-Kennedy, NDP
  • S. Pankhurst, New Blue
  • Ross Romano, PC Party of Ontario
  • Naomi Sayers, Independent

Read More: Romano strikes back at local ‘gutter politics’ (3 photos)

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