Why you shouldn't write off Rob Ford

Video: The Ford years in Toronto are far from over, political observers say

TORONTO — In the end, it wasn’t the crack-cocaine scandal, or racial, sexual and homophobic remarks, or even the machinations of his political opponents that crushed any hope the world’s most infamous mayor had of remaining in power.

It was a potentially cancerous tumour that forced the typically bombastic Rob Ford to pen a last-minute statement from his hospital bed to announce he was dropping his re-election bid.

He will instead run for his old council seat, a spot he could easily win. But don’t write him off just yet, said one political observer.
“If you would have asked me if this is the way that it was going to end I would say I would never have guessed it, but at the same time is it really over?” said Gabriel Eidelman, a University of Toronto professor of public policy and governance.

“With Rob Ford at council he’s still part of the game and so I don’t think the story will end. It’s not the end of Rob Ford.”

While one Ford got out of the mayoral race, another Ford got in. Doug Ford — the mayor’s city councillor brother — entered the race mere minutes before the 2 p.m. deadline.

Friday’s news brings to an end Rob Ford’s attempts to establish his re-election campaign as one of redemption, with vows that he was a changed man after spending two months in rehab over the summer.

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Ford’s time at the helm of Canada’s largest city brought round after round of personal and professional implosions — he lost most of his powers, most of his staff, his radio and TV shows, most of his council allies, the beloved high school football team he coached and any measure of privacy he may have previously enjoyed — and through it all he remained standing.

In the decade Ford spent as a city councillor he established himself as a brash outsider, landing in hot water on multiple occasions for insulting fellow councillors and uttering racial slurs.

“Oriental people work like dogs … They’re slowly taking over,” he said at a council meeting.

“If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line,” Ford said at another meeting while voting against AIDS funding.

He opposed grants for arts or social causes and railed against a “war” on cars. As a city councillor Ford said that when cyclists were hit and killed by vehicles it was their own fault. A disregard for city hall rules nearly cost him his job on a technicality by the time he was mayor.

Throughout his tumultuous mayoralty, Ford’s message of low taxes and fiscal restraint was loudest of all, winning him a group of core supporters known as Ford Nation.

He prided himself on watching taxpayer dollars and looking out for “the little guy.” His “customer service” approach to being mayor included returning every phone call made to his office and getting potholes fixed.

But his in-your-face style of running the city alienated most of city council, even before his drug scandal. Ford was seen as a divisive politician, favouring suburban Toronto over downtown interests.

“We probably have never seen a more polarizing figure at least in this city and perhaps even across the country,” Eidelman said.
That was true even before he became known the world over as the “crack-smoking mayor of Toronto,” a title he’s unlikely to shake any time soon.

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As his troubles grew, so did his celebrity. People lined up for hours to buy Ford bobblehead dolls. When Ford appeared at public events, he willingly posed with hordes of people who clamoured for a photo with him, even though it was a photo that marked the start of his crack-cocaine woes.

News of Ford’s drug use first exploded in May 2013 with reports from the Toronto Star and U.S. website Gawker that a video appeared to show him smoking crack cocaine. Neither outlet was able to obtain a copy of the video, but they published a photo of a sweatsuit-clad Ford with his arms around a man who was murdered weeks later and two alleged gang members.

Ford, who was first elected as a city councillor in 2000, had been a controversial figure long before his crack-cocaine use skyrocketed him to global infamy.

The scandals of old included domestic disturbances at his home and a 1999 arrest in Florida for DUI and pot possession — the drug charge was later dropped.

But then came the allegations of crack use, which Ford admitted to months later by saying he had likely done it in one of his “drunken stupors.”

The seemingly off-the-cuff confession did nothing to quell the firestorm surrounding him. In fact, it solidified his celebrity status.
A string of other embarrassing incidents, including a video of Ford in an expletive-laced tirade talking about killing someone and a crudely sexual remark on live television made him a staple of American late-night television for several weeks running.

The material was gold for comedians — both of the professional and arm-chair variety — but gravely serious allegations lay at the heart of Ford’s troubles.

A police investigation into the mayor’s activities led to drug charges for his friend Alexander Lisi, who was also later charged with extortion for alleged attempts to retrieve the so-called crack video. The police allegations came out in a stunning series of documents investigators used to obtain search warrants, ordered released by a judge. The allegations have not been proven in court.

Ex-staffers painted a picture of an often erratic man, by turns ill-tempered and weepy, and one who they suspected was an alcoholic. They told police the mayor drove drunk, one time nearly hitting one of them, police wrote in the documents.

As police listened to wiretaps during a gang investigation, they overheard discussions about delivering drugs to the mayor and possibly blackmailing him with compromising images, according to the police documents.

The chaos surrounding Ford relatively abated after city council stripped him of most of his mayoral powers — a move he likened to attacking Kuwait. He publicly swore off alcohol and said in a television interview that he had a “come to Jesus” moment.

But scandal once again reared its head when a video appeared on YouTube showing a largely incoherent Ford using Jamaican swear words and insulting the city’s police chief. It came just weeks after Ford had professed newfound sobriety and he admitted he had been drinking the night the video was surreptitiously filmed, calling the incident a “minor setback.”

Confronted with reports of a new video showing him allegedly smoking crack cocaine, an audio recording of the mayor spewing profanities and making lewd comments about a fellow mayoral contender, and witness accounts of him snorting cocaine at a city nightclub, Ford took a leave of absence to seek “immediate help” and entered rehab.

In response to criticism Ford often fell back on variations of “I never said I was perfect,” which dovetails with his self-professed image as the common man.

Ford railed against the “establishment,” though he had been at city hall for more than a decade, and ranted against the “elites,” though he drove a luxury SUV and his family owns several Florida condominiums as well as a cottage north of Toronto. The family also owns a labels business started by their late patriarch.

With Ford pulling our of the mayoral race, his opponents no longer have the chance to defeat him politically, said Ryerson University politics professor Myer Siemiatycki.

But with Ford running for city council and his brother running for mayor, the Fords may well be an ongoing presence in Toronto politics, he said.

“It has certainly been a wild ride for these past four years,” Siemiatycki said.

“(But) I wouldn’t jump to conclude that the Ford years in Toronto are over.”

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