Rob Ford: Uncontrollable: Read an exclusive excerpt

Ford’s behaviour drew staff into his family life—at times into its most intimate moments, Mark Towhey reveals in an excerpt from his new book

(Peter Power/Globe and Mail/CP)

(Peter Power/Globe and Mail/CP)

To work in the mayor of Toronto’s office while Rob Ford careered toward self-destruction was humiliating, thankless, and—it later became clear—hazardous to one’s well-being. Days spent doing damage control blurred into frantic, late-night salvage missions, in which members of Ford’s 14-person staff hauled themselves from bed to rescue their reeling boss from public embarrassment, or to listen to his drug-fuelled rants over their cellphones.

By the time Ford left for rehab in May 2014, they were exhausted to the point of physical frailty, writes Ford’s former chief of staff, Mark Towhey, in a newly published book Mayor Rob Ford: Uncontrollable: How I Tried to Help the World’s Most Notorious Mayor. (Read our full Q&A with Towhey here.) Some were laid low by depression; others wrestled with unresolved anger. Two developed cancer, and several remain unemployed to this day. Few absorbed the flak from closer range than Towhey himself.

Ford unceremoniously dumped Towhey not long after the crack scandal broke. But it’s safe to say the chief’s job would have become living hell if he’d stayed. The mayor went on to reveal himself as a full-blown addict with connections to a seedy underworld of drug dealers and gangsters. When under the influence, he had a propensity to go on foul-mouthed, sexist and racist rants.

Debate still simmers over the role those close to Ford played in prolonging his misrule. Towhey believes his book lifts the lid on behind-the-scenes facts that explain their ways, forming the “connective tissue” of a complex and harrowing tale. His team lived in a world of moral conundrums, he argues, pitting their duty to enact the program of a duly elected mayor against their dismay at his growing incapacity to do his job, and their desire to contain the damage he was inflicting on those around him. As the business of the city ground on, they found themselves backfilling for an uninterested boss, because, simply put, someone had to do it. In January 2013, they made a round of key midterm council appointments that are supposed to be done by the city’s elected mayor. “I still think it was wrong,” Towhey told Maclean’s. “But there came a point where the machinery of government had to continue.”

The job was all the harder, he says, because Ford was impossible to take at his word. Bulldozing denial was his political stock in trade. Like many addicts, Ford concocted stories and hurled accusations to deflect blame for his failures. (Whether that was drugs talking, we may yet learn: A reportedly sober Ford was re-elected as a councillor; now, having survived a cancer scare, he’s promising to run for mayor again.)


Our Q&A with Mark Towhey, the man behind Rob Ford

Trouble at the Garrison Ball: A second exclusive excerpt from Mayor Rob Ford: Uncontrollable

Inevitably, his behaviour drew his staff into the personal lives of their boss, his wife, Renata, and their two young children, Stephanie and Dougie. Such was the case in the wee hours one morning in June 2012, when Towhey was woken by a cellphone call from his raging, apparently intoxicated boss (see excerpt). He’s still shaken by the memory, yet described it this week as a mere taste of what other members of the staff endured on a regular basis. It had become increasingly difficult to separate truth from ravings fuelled by alcohol or perhaps worse. “I knew that these calls were a nightly occurrence for most of the staff,” he said this week. “I didn’t know whether they were like my call. I had to talk to staff afterward and say, ‘He talked to me last night, and this is what he said.’ A lot of them were, ‘Yeah, that happens all the time.’ ”


Exclusive excerpt: Rob Ford: Uncontrollable

This excerpt has been edited to remove a handful of lines that contained material not appropriate for Maclean’s. The edits are indicated by asterisks.

Not long after the Eaton Centre shooting, my work BlackBerry again rang in the middle of the night. 2:39 a.m. Blocked number. Uh-oh—Rob.

He’s out of it, but he doesn’t sound drunk. This time, he’s speaking superfast. Agitated. I can barely understand half of what he says. A clear word or phrase here, then incoherence for several sentences. Gradually, I piece it together.

He says he’s been arguing with Renata and wants me to witness (by phone) that he is leaving the house. I can hear Renata in the background, alternately screaming and pleading with him. Her speech is slurred and she sounds extremely agitated. I turn down the volume on my phone and slip out of the bedroom, closing my son’s bedroom door as I walk down to the kitchen where I can talk without waking up my kids. I grab a pen and a pad of my kids’ construction paper and start taking notes. Rob sounds like he’s out of control, and I’m worried I may have to remember this conversation. It’s now 2:44 a.m. “Rob, what’s going on?” I ask. “Is everyone okay? Are the kids okay?”

Rob doesn’t answer. I hear Renata, in the background, say, “Stop bothering me . . . Get out of this room.” I hear Rob ask her, “Did I give you $200?” They both sound angry. But he’s 330 lb. and tall, and she’s about 120 and shorter. I’m hoping to God this doesn’t get physical.

Rob: “Can I talk to you about what happened?” I don’t know if he means me or Renata. Next he tells me he and Renata were fighting because “*** *** ******** **** **************.”

At this point, I am not surprised by anything outrageous coming from Rob’s mouth.

Renata: “Get out!”

Both of them spit a string of curses at one another. I can’t hear it all, but it doesn’t sound good. I strain to hear the kids, but there’s no indication they’re there. Maybe Rob and Renata are in the basement. Maybe the kids sleep upstairs.

Rob (to Renata): “Can I get the money back? You have a lot of money there. What else *** *** ***** ** *****?”

Rob (to me): “I can’t live like this.” ****** **** **** ***** ** ***** ** **.”

More outrageous Rob.

It’s now 2:48.

Rob (to Renata): “I want to talk about what happened last night.”

Renata: “* ****** ** *** ***. ” I can’t tell whether she’s being straight or mocking him.

Rob (to me): “I gave her $200 for the kids. You have no idea, man . . . I swear to God I’m going to kill this woman, brother.”

F–k me. I grab my personal iPhone, which is charging on the kitchen counter. I key in 911, but don’t press “Enter.” Not yet. At the moment, the mayor and his wife are having a no-holds-barred screaming fest, but that’s not illegal. My parents used to have those when I was a kid. No one got hurt. Not physically, anyway.
Renata: “Get out of my face. You’re driving me nuts!”

Rob: “I’ll rip this f–king door open!”

Renata: “Get out of here. Leave me alone!”

Rob: “Just open the door and talk to me.”

Renata: “I’m calling Dougie.” I’m hoping she means Doug Ford, Rob’s brother, and not Dougie Ford, her and Rob’s four-year-old son. But does this mean Renata calls Doug when Rob is out of control?

I wonder if Rob has forgotten I’m on the phone. At this point, he definitely sounds like the aggressor. Renata sounds like she’s locked herself in a room. She keeps yelling at him to leave.

Rob (to Renata, to himself, I can’t quite tell): “Don’t smoke in my room . . . I catch him on video . . . What **** do you have under there? It looks like a ******** ********* ****** ***** ****** **** ***** ***.”

Rob (suddenly, to me): “**** * ****** ****. She’s got $520 hidden away. They pay her ** **** **** ** *** * ***** * ***** ****. Stephanie tells me ***** **** *** ****** ****.” Stephanie is his then-eight-year-old daughter.

I can’t tell if Rob believes what he’s saying or if he’s making up lies to anger Renata and make me think everything is her fault.

“Where are the kids, Rob?” I ask. He doesn’t answer.

I can hear him rustling around the house. I don’t hear Renata anymore. I’m hoping he’s moved away from her.

Rob: “I just found $500 in the couch and a cellphone . . .” I can hear him huffing as he searches under the sofa cushions. His speech is calming down a little bit.
Rob: “I’m going insane.”

It’s now 2:57 a.m. I’m exhausted, but I feel the adrenalin coursing through my veins. How can I shut this down? I can’t drive over there and leave my own kids alone in the house. I have to do it by phone.

Rob: “There’s $1,120 in cash in the couch, dude. You guys all knew about this and you never told me, f–kers.”

He’s still searching the room. I can hear him moving stuff around.

Rob: “I just found a big ***** ** **** *** * ****.” There’s a long pause and I can’t hear him well, as if he’s put the phone down. But it sounds like he’s saying, “I’ll light this thing up.”

His next few sentences are clearer.

Rob: “I just found this **** * *** * ***** ** ** *** ** *****.”

Rob: “You knew this. You guys knew everything all along. ***** * ***** *** * ******* ****”

More lies to enrage Renata?

Rob: “She just took my gun upstairs.”

His what? They have a f–king gun? It’s ominously quiet in the background. I don’t hear Renata or anyone else. Just Rob breathing, then speaking. His voice gets really fast again. I don’t know if he’s making s–t up. I can’t tell what’s really happening from what fantasies he’s spinning.

“Where are your kids, Rob?” I ask again. Again, he doesn’t seem to hear me.

Rob: “It’s quiet now. Let’s go upstairs.” I hear his footsteps on the stairs. I beg him to stay downstairs, to let Renata be. Don’t wake up the kids. Stop arguing. Don’t make the police come to the house. Again.

Rob (to Renata): “There’s a lot of cash downstairs.” I hear her muffled voice in the background. She sounds sleepy.

Rob (to Renata), yelling: “We’ve got you cornered like a rat!”

Renata: “Don’t wake up the kids!”

Rob: “She’s got my piece . . . She’s gone . . . Get the f–k downstairs.”

I wonder again: Should I get in my car? Should I get someone over there?

Renata, louder now, no longer behind a door: “Are you going to leave me alone?”

Rob: “I’m going to give you five dollars see . . .” [ . . . ] incoherent “. . . or I’m putting three bullets in your head. You’re pinched. I’ll pump you full . . .” [ . . . ] again incoherent [ . . . ]

F–k. F–k. I fumble with my iPhone again. Call now? “Do you have a gun, Rob?” I ask.

“She stole it,” he answers.

Rob had once told me that his dad had had a vintage gun. I’d asked where it was, if it was legally registered, who owned it now. The last thing I wanted was a gun in Ford’s house—any gun, but especially an illegal gun. This country has tight gun laws, which the mayor of Toronto should not break. Rob had answered that he didn’t own any guns.

Rob (to Renata), mockingly: “Let’s go down and talk about what’s going on.” He laughs.

Rob (to me): “Now she’s upstairs in the kids’ room.”

“Just let her be, Rob,” I plead. “Let the kids sleep. They don’t need to see their mom and dad fighting.”

Too late. I hear Stephanie’s voice in the background. My left thumb hovers over the “Enter” button on my iPhone, ready to summon the police. My heart is pounding. I hear blood rushing through my neck. I lean forward, mouth open, straining to hear what’s going on in Rob Ford’s house. It’s like being back in the army, in the dark woods, straining to hear footsteps.

Rob: “Steph, is Mommy being bad or good?”

I can half-hear Stephanie’s sleepy voice.

“Rob, leave her alone,” I say, trying to sound stern but calm. Reasonable. An ally. “Let her sleep. Don’t drag her into your fight.”

Again, he asks his daughter whether her mommy is good or bad.

“Mommy is good,” she replies, in a tired little voice. “Everyone in this house is good.” More mature than either of her parents, she’s trying to keep the peace. My heart cracks. It’s now 3:05.

I hear Rob say, “See no monkey, hear no monkey,” in the creepiest kiddie-talk voice I’ve ever heard. A shiver goes down my spine.

“Let her go back to sleep, Rob,” I plead.

Rob: “I’ve never stolen in my life, man.” That’s a 90-degree turn in his conversation, but a welcome one. It sounds like he’s moving away from the kids’ room. His voice speeds up again. I can’t understand all of it.

Rob: “I’ve never f–ked around . . . I would be a world leader . . . People say you’re f–ked, but you’re honest and never stold [sic] anything.”

Suddenly he’s angry, this time with Doug. He rambles on about a panic rush order from Maple Leaf Foods that Deco had received. They’d paid 10 times the normal invoice price. “Dougie says, ‘Don’t f–k this up,’ ” Rob babbles.

Then: “You and I are exactly the same.” I don’t even want to think about where that came from.

He continues talking about me, about how smart I am, but how I don’t unwind, I don’t have a life. He respects me. But . . .

At 3:13, out of nowhere, Renata starts yelling again in the background—I mean, really shouting.

Renata: “Shut the f–k up!”

Rob: “Don’t put your hands on me! Don’t grab my phone!”

I’m straining to hear anything that sounds like a blow, a push or a shove. I unlock my iPhone again, ready to call 911.

Rob: “Don’t touch me!”

Renata: “I’ll call the cops. Stay away from me! Get the hell out of my way. Get out!”

Rob: “Call 911! Or Dougie*********** *******.”

Whoa, what? Suddenly Renata is talking to me, speaking over Rob as he holds the phone. “Mark, can you please get Rob out of the house?” she pleads.

I ask Rob to back off, leave Renata alone. I ask him to go to another room so he and I can talk. I’m keeping my voice low, slow, soothing. I hear him moving, I think, downstairs. Renata’s voice disappears and I hear a door close.

Rob is mumbling something I can’t make out, so I keep talking. I tell him I can send him a car, take him to a hotel. “You can get a good night’s sleep,” I say. “You don’t have to fight anymore. How about it?”

It’s now 3:23. Rob unleashes a blast of words at hyper-speed. I can only make out a few words here and there.

“ . . . doobies  . . . ”

“I smoked that s–t . . .”

“I sold that s–t . . .”

“ . . . heroin . . .”

3:30. He’s still talking.

“ . . . my dad shot this guy . . .”

“. . . after he shot my cousin . . .”

“. . . Cousin Willy died . . . cousin Dougie . . .”

“I’m doing it in the washroom. I’m snorting s–t. I’m smashing s–t . . .”

“I come out all dripping wet . . .”


“Since Mikey the transvestite died . . .”

“. . . fighter . . .”

“. . . left-handed . . .”

Finally, at 3:57, his monologue begins to slow. I can make out a few more words and phrases. Rob says he doesn’t smoke, but talks about others “smoking weed in the ‘man cave,’ ” *** * ******** **** *** ** ***** ***** ********** *** *** ********* **** *** ***** **** *** ***** **** ******* ** **** ******* ***** ************.

Rob: “It’s lonely at the top. My therapy is talking. You’re a good listener, Towhey. I’m gonna give you $1,000 for listening to my s–t.” I tell him he doesn’t need to do that; he can call me any time. He insists. “You shouldn’t have to put up with my s—t,” he says.

It’s 4:00 a.m. He now sounds calm. As he has done on other late-night calls, he begins to apologize, says he’s sorry he f–ked everything up. He says he’ll be okay, but he’s sorry for me, because I have nothing in my life. He says I’m f–ked. I’m standing in my kitchen in the dark, looking at a construction-paper pad full of my boss’s ravings. I’m inclined to agree.

Rob: “I gotta go. I gotta go to the washroom to do another smash. I’m not a corrupt guy. Hell, maybe when it comes to******* **** or getting drunk or doing drugs . . .”

At last, calmed down, he says he’s “gotta let you go” and hangs up. It’s 4:20 a.m. I’ve been listening to him for an hour and 40 minutes. I’m emotionally spent. I plug my phones back into their chargers, take a long drink of water, and go back to bed, hoping to God my phone won’t ring again that night. It doesn’t. But he still owes me that $1,000.

Excerpted from: Mayor Rob Ford: Uncontrollable by Mark Towhey and Johanna Schneller. © 2015 Mark Towhey and Johanna Schneller. With permission from Skyhorse Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.


Rob Ford: Uncontrollable: Read an exclusive excerpt

  1. Ok, now I understand why Harper wants the Fords to organize a rally for him.

  2. “Left thumb hovering over the “Enter” button…”
    Don’t expect any help from Mr. Towhey is you are a woman being threatened with death.

  3. He listened to that and DIDN’T call 911? I think I see where part of the problem is.

  4. Two of his staff developed cancer? So now Rob Ford has the power to give people cancer? Good grief, does he don a Darth Vader suit when he does it? The Ford family life is typical of an alcoholic’s life. Go to a bookstore and find the self-help section. It will be full of books that describe this kind of life. I think Ford may have made it easier for other alcoholics and addicts to ask for help. http://ireneogrizek.com/social-commentary/kevin-donovan-rob-ford/

  5. Doug says he can produce a huge crowd for Harper easily… We know Rob Farley can… but Doug… say goodbye to the Conservative teet..

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