TORONTO – Toronto’s embattled mayor has only himself to blame for the media firestorm ignited by his antics, some experts and critics said Wednesday as Rob Ford defended himself against new allegations over his use of city staff.
The polarizing leader of Canada’s most populous city lashed out against officials who questioned the role of his taxpayer-funded city staff in managing his high school football team, the latest in a string of incidents that have thrust the mayor in the hot seat.
According to a Globe and Mail story published Wednesday, Ford used at least two of his employees and their taxpayer-funded cellphones to help administer the summer football teams he founded after taking office.
In a statement, Ford said only a “coward” would criticize his staff, which “works hard every day” for the city’s taxpayers, often putting in more than 40 hours a week.
He added paid work is not the only type of work that contributes to our society, suggesting his staff volunteer their time on the football field.
The mayor’s brother, meanwhile, slammed local news outlets for what he called biased and “lazy” coverage — echoing Ford’s supporters, who have long claimed he is unfairly targeted by the media.
A colourful politician known for his gaffes even before winning the mayor’s seat, Ford’s behaviour in and out of city hall has repeatedly landed him in hot water and even placed his job in jeopardy.
Some political and media experts — as well as at least one city councillor — said Wednesday the mayor has cast himself in the spotlight.
All public figures are under scrutiny and Ford should be no exception, said Peter Graefe, a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“I don’t think really that there’s any kind of sign of him getting an extra rough ride,” he said.
“I think it’s more he’s invited the media to ask these questions because in the public space, he’s shown himself really incapable of making the distinction between what was his private interest and what was the public interest.”
Janice Neil, the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journalism Project website, said the very traits that captured voters’ attention are what’s generating media interest.
“He is a colourful character that is bound to attract interest. He’s very different certainly than the last mayor and certainly than people probably expect the mayor to be… so that certainly meets a number of news agendas,” she said.
In some cases, the public has spurred media coverage of the mayor, such as a recent incident in which Ford was photographed reading behind the wheel, she noted.
He later admitted to reading while driving, citing his busy schedule.
So far, Ford’s popularity appears unshaken by the ongoing controversy.
But while he has bounced back from most incidents, there is a chance one case — also linked to football — could have him removed from office.
Wednesday’s allegations came a week after Ford testified in court he was no longer using city resources to benefit his football work.
Ford took the stand in a conflict-of-interest case that alleges he spoke and voted on a matter in which he had a financial interest.
The mayor voted with council in February to dismiss recommendations by the city’s integrity commissioner that he repay funds raised for his football charity using city letterhead and staff.
Ford told the judge he no longer used city resources for football-related purposes.
Coun. Joe Mihevc, who has opposed the mayor on many issues, predicted the latest accusations would spark another complaint to the commissioner.
He said the mayor’s behaviour has made Toronto “the laughingstock across the country.”
“We’re not taking down the mayor, the mayor’s taking himself down,” he said.