When Rob Ford ran for mayor of Toronto in 2010, after other more moderate and polished conservatives declined to throw their hats in the ring, there was a lot of hyperventilation on the part of lefties and progressives.
After all, here was a guy who as a city councillor got drunk at a Toronto Maple Leafs game in 2006 and verbally accosted a couple who objected to his behaviour, then was kicked out of the Air Canada Centre. He later lied about being at the game, but confessed when confronted by reporters.
What’s more, in 1999, he was arrested in Miami for driving under the influence and possessing marijuana. He claimed during the mayoral campaign that the whole incident had completely slipped his mind.
He also once called fellow councillor Giorgio Mammoliti – a former NDPer who is now a staunch right-wing council ally – a “Gino Boy,” and he was generally renowned in his 10 years on council for being a fiscally conservative lone wolf who alienated the press and couldn’t work with anyone, left or right.
Since winning the election on a platform of “stopping the gravy train” at City Hall, the penny-pinching Ford has been, well, the same old jerk.
He’s been spotted multiple times driving while talking on his cellphone – a no-no in Ontario – and flipped the bird to some fellow drivers who called him on it.
He refuses to talk to the country’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, saying it published a libellous story during the campaign that alleged he assaulted a high school football player on a team he once coached.
He’s also bungled the transit file so badly with his unwillingness to compromise on his plan to extend the Sheppard subway and his opposition to light rapid transit alternatives that he’s basically lost whatever sway he originally had with city council. That’s a big problem in a municipal political system in which there are no parties and the mayor only gets one vote.
This is far from an exhaustive list of his indiscretions and outright stupidity.
Ford is an embarrassment, to be sure, but when he was elected, my standard line was that he would likely be no worse than the first mayor of the amalgamated city of Toronto, Mel Lastman, a buffoon who served from 1998 to 2003.
Lastman famously called in the army to handle a 1999 snowstorm, and he later welcomed a Hells Angels convention to town, claiming he didn’t know the biker gang was involved in the drug trade. In 2001, he wondered aloud why he would want to go to Mombasa, Kenya, to lobby IOC delegates for a Toronto Olympic bid, saying, “I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.”
But I have to take it all back. Rob Ford is an idiot who’s much worse than Lastman. Ford is the worst big-city mayor this country has ever seen – at least since I’ve been paying attention – because he just doesn’t learn from his mistakes.
I actually thought he might grow into the job, or that the discipline of power would keep him on the straight and narrow. I was totally wrong.
Two incidents this week have convinced me that he doesn’t get it and probably never will.
First, a 29-year-old childcare worker filmed him getting takeout from Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I keep kosher, so I’ve never tried KFC. I hear it’s tasty. But it’s also incredibly unhealthy and very fattening.
Unfortunately for the mayor, he and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, have committed to a weight-loss challenge. The mayor is trying to drop from a weight of 330 pounds three months ago to 280 pounds by mid-June.
As of earlier this week, he weighed 312, up four pounds since mid-March.
You might plausibly argue that perhaps he went to KFC to grab dinner for his kids, or that he was in a hurry because he’s such a dedicated public servant and had no time for a proper meal, or that it would be out of bounds to criticize a female politician for the same indiscretion, so we ought to extend the same courtesy to Ford.
But that would miss the point of just how bad his judgment was in this instance.
If he decided to undertake a goodwill publicity stunt like the weight-loss challenge in the first place, in the name of promoting health or whatever, and if he just couldn’t stick to a healthy diet, the least he could do have done is send a staffer out to pick up some greasy chicken for him.
The fact he did it himself shows that he doesn’t care, or that he doesn’t get it.
By now, you might have expected some of the gravitas of the office to rub off on the guy.
Alas, no. He just isn’t growing into the job.
But Chickengate isn’t the worst mistake Ford made this week.
Speaking yesterday to reporters, he said he would once again skip the July 1 Pride Parade, as he did last year, to spend the weekend at his family’s cottage.
And as in 2011, he also refused to commit to attending any events at the 10-day Pride Festival.
His slightly less politically tone-deaf brother is encouraging him to change his mind, as is fellow right-winger and council ally Denzil Minnan-Wong. Doug Ford went so far as to declare himself a supporter of Pride, telling the Globe and Mail he’s donated “a few thousand dollars” to the festival, which he called “a great event for the City of Toronto.”
Openly lesbian councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has even offered to host a Pride reception for Ford featuring business leaders. She believes it would be a “safer space” for the mayor.
Wong-Tam also notably avoided calling the mayor homophobic – a good decision, since he may or may not be.
“I’ve always thought that the mayor is a shy man,” she told the Globe. “And now [after] 17 months on the job, I also have made the observation that he’s insecure. He needs to know that this is going to be an OK space for him, which is why I thought maybe with the business community he might find that to be a safer space as opposed to coming out to the parade, which has a million people staring at him.”
She added: “He chose to be the mayor. He asked for this job. And this job is to represent the most diverse city in Canada … I don’t think it’s right for the mayor to be selective of who he wants to represent.”
Whatever your views on the Pride Festival, or gays and lesbians more generally, and even though she might very well be grandstanding (she’s a politician after all), Wong-Tam is right.
And Ford has missed yet another opportunity to show he understands what it means to be the mayor of a big, complex city like Toronto.
You might say that these two instance are minor compared to drunken tirades at hockey game or a DUI arrest – both of which, in a saner political climate, should have sunk his chances of becoming mayor in the first place.
To me they show that there’s been no growth.
But it’s not too late for Ford to convince me and others that he might be just another right-wing clown of the relatively harmless variety.
The mayor has been given a chance to show that he has learned from his many mistakes.
Wong-Tam – pardon the pun – has offered Ford an out.
He should take it.