Two questions were likely chewed over at a lot of cottage-openings, urban farmers’ markets and fun-runs or cycle-a-thons this Victoria Day weekend.
How can Mayor Rob Ford’s base of supporters — despite mounting evidence of his personal troubles and spreading doubts about his fitness for office — continue to back him?
And is it remotely possible — despite international infamy that would have Toronto’s austere and abstemious founders spinning in their graves — that he could be re-elected?
In recent years it has usually taken the weirdness of a decapitation for Canada to make news reports abroad. It’s almost unprecedented for Toronto goings-on to make both the BBC and the New York Times. Yet this week, Mayor Rob Ford managed to pull it off.
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The possibility that Ford might have smoked crack cocaine in the company of suspected drug dealers was so mind-bogglingly outrageous that suggestions he uttered homophobic slurs and ethnic disparagements while doing so became mere background noise.
What must be obvious to most by now is that Ford has never seemed comfortable in his own skin as mayor. At worst, he may have unaddressed substance-abuse issues that are ruining his career, his reputation, and could ultimately threaten his life. At best, he seems to share the same predicament described more than a century ago by L. Frank Baum about another gentleman whose ascent in the world exceeded his abilities. He is not a bad man; he is just a very bad mayor for a cosmopolitan city with a budget of about $10 billion a year.
In any event, city Councillor Josh Matlow, for one, was aghast at the notoriety flowing this way as a result of a video made (and subsequently viewed by two Star reporters) of Ford’s alleged misbehaviour.
On Saturday, Matlow tweeted his surprise to learn from friends in New York that Toronto’s crisis at city hall had made the Times. Then the councillor did his best to staunch the hemorrhaging of his city’s image.
“Toronto is a vibrant and diverse city of 2.8 million people, North America’s fourth largest city and a global capital for finance, arts and culture,” Matlow tweeted. Followed by the plea: “Dear international media: please include the contents of my last tweet into your stories about Toronto. ps — We have no wild moose business card.”
For his part, the mayor’s response to the latest of his serial scandals has not been a textbook study in crisis management. Ford did his cause little good with a few sentences of muttered indignation Friday, calling the allegations “ridiculous” and merely the product of this newspaper’s alleged campaign against him.
Since then, Ford has essentially gone to ground and, it was announced Saturday by Newstalk 1010, even cancelled the Sunday talk-radio program that he and brother Doug use as a weekly bully pulpit to defend the mayor and retaliate against perceived enemies.
Doug Ford did reportedly speak to the station Saturday. But his statement sounded to be something less than a thoroughgoing denial on his brother’s behalf. “I have never seen my brother involved with anything like coke.”
As the author Joyce Carol Oates has said, “in the end, all drama is about family.” So too, it seems, is the phenomenon of Rob Ford.
His formative years as the son of a hard-nosed self-made man, his frequently unruly domestic life, then his unlikely political rise and his unseemly dependence on his brother, are root and branch about both the stunting and supportive nature of family — and its attendant aspects of tribe and class.
In many ways, Rob Ford is a tribal descendant of the Mike Harris provincial government of which his father was part, a phenomenon powered by twin resentments against the shiftless undeserving poor and arrogant undeserving elites.
If Harris brought overt class warfare to the local political scene, and made it permissible to campaign against government itself, he also rebuilt Toronto’s institutional infrastructure in a way that made the election of Rob Ford possible.
It was the Harris amalgamation of Toronto that ultimately let the city suburbs take revenge on the downtown elites, and their support of Ford seems as tribal (and hence irrationally tenacious) as anything described in the novels of Dennis Lehane about the toughest precincts of Irish Boston.
Such a state of affairs has both admirable and appalling aspects, not least of which, on the one hand, is dogged loyalty and, on the other, a wilful obliviousness to the nakedly apparent.
At present, that is both the strength and weakness of Ford Nation — and makes anything possible.
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