Councillors pan Rob Ford’s L.A. trip

Colleagues say mayor's late night spot is bad for city's image, question whether it breaks council rules


Mayor Rob Ford’s late night television debut is earning him near universal condemnation at City Hall.

The disgraced mayor made an unexpected trip to Los Angeles on Saturday and is set to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday night. Ford claims he’s using the Hollywood. jaunt to drum up support for Toronto’s film industry, but exactly how is unclear.

He spent part of the weekend walking the Sunset Strip and taking photographs with surprised passersby, and then made a brief cameo on Kimmel’s post-Academy Awards show Sunday night. He was later spotted at a “Salute to the Stars” Oscar party.

On Monday councillors of all stripes criticized Ford’s decision to appear on Kimmel’s talk show, which has repeatedly lampooned the mayor since he admitted last fall to smoking crack cocaine. Most council members questioned the mayor’s official explanation for the visit, and accused Ford of attempting to trade on his notoriety as a drug-using politician in order to grab some time in the spotlight.

“This is not about him going down and promoting Toronto as a great place to work, live and play,” said Councillor Jaye Robinson. “This is about him, and only him, and the fact that he’s become notorious. And I think it’s really negative for Toronto.”

Councillor Peter Milczyn quipped that it was more likely Ford was in Hollywood to “sell film rights to his life story” than to help Toronto’s movie industry.

Councillor Adam Vaughan cracked a joke about Ford sharing the stage Kimmel’s other Monday night guest: the muppet character the Great Gonzo.

“Gonzo’s the puppet, the goner is the mayor,” said Vaughan. He compared the public’s fascination with Ford to watching a “car crash” unfold.

“No one’s celebrating this guy. People are gawking at him. He’s a freak of nature and they’re just looking at him going wow, that’s what a crack-smoking mayor looks like,” Vaughan said.

“The reason why the mayor is on these late night talk shows is not to promote Toronto. That’s not why he was asked onto the show,” agreed Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. “It was to focus in and highlight many of the mayor’s problems and faults.”

Minnan-Wong questioned whether Ford’s trip was being paid for by the Kimmel show, and if so, whether it would violate council’s code of conduct. The code prohibits council members from accepting any gifts “connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her duties of office.”

Exceptions to the rule can be made if food, lodging, or transportation is provided by a government or “a conference, seminar or event organizer where the [council] member is either speaking or attending in an official capacity.”

Minnan-Wong said he wasn’t sure if the exception would apply in this case, but he suggested the mayor should make sure that he’s following the rules. The councillor recalled that in November CNN offered to bring him to New York to do an interview about the mayor, but city officials advised him it would be improper to accept.

The mayor is in Los Angeles with his brothers – Doug Ford, the councillor for Etobicoke North, and Randy Ford, who is not in politics. His chief of staff Dan Jacobs, spokesperson Amin Massoudi, and driver and physical trainer Jerry Agyemang also made the trip.

There are conflicting reports as to who is paying for the excursion. Councillor Ford told Global News on Sunday that the cost was being split between the Fords and the Kimmel show. But on Monday, Massoudi told NOW in an email that “Mayor Ford and Councillor Ford are paying for themselves and the staff. The Jimmy Kimmel show payed [sic] for one dinner while we were here.”

Kimmel’s publicist did not immediately return a request for clarification.

Meanwhile, the head of the city’s film office has confirmed that if the mayor is promoting the local movie industry in Hollywood, he’s doing so without making use of the resources the city has in place for that purpose.

In partnership with the Ontario Media Development Corporation and Film Ontario, Toronto maintains a representative in Los Angeles to foster ties with U.S. movie players. But Randy McLean, acting Film Commissioner for the city, said the mayor did not contact the film department to coordinate his L.A. mission.

“The mayor’s trip to L.A. was the mayor’s initiative. The film office was not involved in the planning or the activities,” said McLean, adding that he learned about the trip around the time the mayor started tweeting about it on Saturday morning.

In McLean’s opinion however, the fact that the mayor’s trip was “supplemental” to the film office’s work “is not a concern.”

But Councillor Paula Fletcher, who sits on the Toronto Film Board, said it was “actually wrong” for Ford to imply he was speaking on behalf of the local movie industry.

“We have a very sophisticated promotion [process] for film, and it has brought in a large number of films into our city,” she said. “Just stumbling around Los Angeles with your family and your staff is not a plan to bring film to the city of Toronto.”

bens@nowtoronto.com | @BenSpurr

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