By every indication, Rob Ford’s world is crumbling. He is eluding the media like a fugitive in his own city. The 24-hour news channels that run silently in the corners of bars and dentists’ offices loop random clips of Ford being chased around by packs of TV reporters. Here’s Ford trying to order something through a thicket of microphones at Tim Hortons, a forced grin on his face. Now Ford peeling out of his driveway in his Escalade. Now Ford crossing a parking lot, mob in tow. Behind him in the last frame, the sign on the gas station, over his shoulder: “On The Run.”
Two days ago, the city’s Catholic school board announced that Ford been sacked as the coach of a high-school football team. Sometimes it seemed like the highest office he ever held, the one appointment he could never miss. (Last fall, things got to the point where Ford was rescheduling his court appearances to coach football.) But students and parents chafed at the way he’d boast about how destitute they’d be if it weren’t for him. Officially, the school board’s decision officially had nothing to do with the drug allegations, yet they chose this week to make the announcement. The Globe quoted a source saying Ford was “shattered.”
One day ago, Ford fired his chief of staff. Mark Towhey was a true believer in the cause, a member of Ford’s brain trust from the very beginning, an unblinking champion against every charge so far. He was escorted out of city hall by security.
By midnight, every news outlet was running more or less the same anonymously sourced account of what had happened: Towhey had confronted the mayor, demanding he go to rehab, and the two fell out. The final straw, according to these accounts, was Ford’s demand that his staff organize a pizza party for his former football students at his house. (Ford’s penchant for appropriating city staff and vehicles for football purposes is not a new thing.) Towhey is said to have refused, and that was that.
His last defender is his brother. Doug Ford emerged two days ago, pale-faced and coal-eyed, to face reporters outside his brother’s glass-walled office, in the same spot where in years past, the two staged their weight-loss challenge on a gaudy industrial scale.
“I’m not speaking for the mayor; the mayor is my brother, I love him and he’ll speak for himself,” he said. Soon thereafter: “Rob’s is telling me these stories are untrue, that these accusations are ridiculous, and I believe him. I will always support my brother as the mayor of this city because I believe in his track record.” And with that, he launched into about eight minutes of recitation of their administration’s successes, real and imagined, as if looping back onto their message track would make the problem go away.
Was it denial, enabling, cynicism, or all three? In any case, Doug certainly seems to be deeply entrenched in bunker mentality. The next day, he told a sympathetically paranoid columnist that the timing of the crack story was rigged to save Kathleen Wynne from a bad news day. “Here comes the Toronto Star saving the Liberals . … It’s no coincidence, by any means.” (This has no bearing on reality: Gawker broke the story, leading Star journalists to quite literally run to the office and write up its version that night.)
This isn’t about a video anymore. Last night, Gawker announced that its “Crackstarter” campaign had hit a snag, insofar as the skittish drug dealers it was planning to buy the alleged Rob Ford-smokes-crack video from had vanished. We might have seen this coming. I cannot imagine that a week of international publicity is the kind of thing that soothes a crack-dealing videographer’s nerves, even one who’s planning a fresh start after leaving town in an auspicious blaze of extortion. Years hence, we’ll cringe to remember that, for a few days, a cross-border scheme to funnel $200,000 in crowdfunded money to drug dealers was widely viewed as Toronto’s last, best shot at political accountability.
It’s moot now. The video is a MacGuffin. Its contents pale next to the flight reaction they’ve brought out in the mayor, and the unravelling that’s followed. Now, we learn that members of Ford’s executive committee are speaking out against him, and laying plans to “run the city.”
Bad as they are, things could keep getting worse. Irrespective of the allegations themselves, Ford has terminally damaged his credibility by leaving the city hanging when it needed to hear from him most. And with his credibility goes our credibility, in our own eyes and the eyes of the world on which we depend. Toronto cannot keep on until the end of 2014 with a mayor who won’t address the charges against him that have ground government to a halt, who’s turned his city into a global laughingstock, and who could well be self-destructing in the grips of an addiction. The status quo is not an option. Yet the courses that aren’t an option are the ones Ford has historically been most determined to pursue.
What if he refuses to budge again, convinced he has no problem? Those who spoke truth to power get fired. Those who report are branded conspirators. There is practically no way to impeach a mayor, and there’s certainly no way to force him into rehab. The nightmare scenario sees the Fords staging a two-man Alamo, fighting on against their colleagues and the media, grinding this on into a long crisis of governance until finally, inexorably, something gives. The price to the city could be huge. The price to Ford himself could be greater still.
The alternative lies in the hands of any who’s still telling the Fords that this situation is tenable. It isn’t. Please, mayor. Don’t do this to yourself, and don’t do this to us. Please end this now, and go.