Like the proverbial cat of lore, though a conspicuously rotund one, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is possessed of nine lives – one for nearly every fatal blunder possible in the brutal cosmos of elected office.
About the only outrage this recovering substance abuser hasn’t committed in his relatively short career in front of the footlights is an old-fashioned sex scandal involving a mistress whom the media’s hound dogs reveal to be a foreign spy.
Everything else – from public drunkenness to smoking crack cocaine with “persons of interest” to Hog Town’s sturdy constabulary – he has covered with enviable bravado and originality. It now remains to be seen whether he manages his public reconstruction with equal dollops of brio.
He’s off to a truly Fordian start.
“When I look back on some of the things I have said and some of the things I did when I was using, I am ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated,” Mr. Ford practically wailed before a crowd of Toronto reporters who had gathered at City Hall on Monday, exactly 24 hours after his release from 60 days of self-imposed rehabilitation at a facility far from prying eyes.
He said he was “wrong” and had no one to blame, “but no one”, but himself. He talked about enduring “some of the darkest moments” of his life as he relented to treatment that, nonetheless, “saved” his life. He blathered on about spending a good deal of his time in charge of Canada’s largest city – a metropolis of between two and six million souls, depending on how one parses census data – “in complete denial” about his “personal demons.”
Then he launched into a vigorous defence of his political record and vowed to represent the people of his city with matchless determination and characteristic devotion.
The meta message, therefore, was along certain lines thusly: “Sorry for all the bother folks. but I’m all better now. Let’s move on; nothing to see here anymore. . .Anybody got a candy bar I can scarf? Getting off booze and drugs is hungry business. . .Gotta tell you. . .Ooo, is that a donut I see?”
The degree to which one believes Hizzoner’s declarations of personal cleanliness and sobriety depends entirely on one’s perspectives about public office and what it may or may not do to those who serve at the democratic will of the electorate.
Over the past few decades, Toronto has become a true melting pot of people from divergent world cultures. Some have zero tolerance for the sort of shenanigans that has typified Mr. Ford’s regime. Others are decidedly sanguine about their mayor’s peccadilloes and proclivities, if only because he has deliberately made a populist of himself – a posture they appreciate.
He’s no elite, they say. He’s a man of the people. And like any man of the people, he has his faults. We should forgive him for these, shouldn’t we? At least he’s not a nail-biting, politically correct elitist.
Better yet, he doesn’t go around shooting people in the dark, as burgermeisters of many less enlightened cities in disadvantaged nations often do when their critics cross the line and commit the unpardonable offence of questioning authority.
But if this is, indeed, our litmus test for municipal leadership in this country, then we have reached a truly sorry state of affairs.
Mr. Ford’s crimes against common decency demonstrate his colossally poor judgement. His tirades – drunken or otherwise – against his colleagues reveal dimensions of immaturity and paranoia that would otherwise fill a therapist’s calendar for years to come.
He has yet to apologize personally to his rival for mayor, Karen Stintz, for outrageously inappropriate remarks he made about her while sucking back a few brewskis in a bar in April.
And he has never acknowledged the shellacking his behaviour has visited upon Toronto in the court of world opinion. According to a CBC item posted to its website recently, “A new media-monitoring analysis suggests the Rob Ford saga received more intensive media coverage in the United States than any other Canadian news story since the turn of the century.”
Toronto mayoralty candidate Olivia Chow is right when she declares, as she did to the Globe and Mail this week, “The question is not whether Rob Ford is clean and sober. The issue is that he is a failed mayor.”
Still, will that matter four months from now when municipal election day rolls around?
This cat’s come back from the brink before.