ZUMA Wire Service / Alamy
The rise and fall Of Rob Ford
His critics warned us it would be like this. They told us Rob Ford was no leader. No consensus builder. That he'd crash and burn. They were right, at least about the crash part.
But not quite two years after that improbable election win, three weeks shy of the halfway mark in a twisted first term, not even his harshest detractors could have imagined such a precipitous fall from grace. It's been one misstep, one scandal, one abuse of office after another. Ford has certainly redefined the possible in city politics, in a manner of speaking.
It's been entertaining, wilder than reality TV, beyond anything we've never seen before. But the absurdity may have reached a tipping point. People have started laughing at Ford - the worst thing that can happen to a politician.
Amidst the craziness, the controversy-per-day pace of recent weeks, it's easy to forget this administration's early days, when a movie-star-turned-governor and visiting rock stars paid homage to Ford. There was no stopping the mayor.
It was breathtaking to watch the Ford juggernaut mow down the opposition. So complete was his power that budgets were passed without all the numbers, and a multi-million-dollar deal to contract out garbage was rubber-stamped without a formal request for proposals.
Then something happened to the self-styled man of the people. Ford gave up trying to pretend he was anything but a spoiled rich kid from the burbs. He ditched his family everyman van with the vanity plates and bought a Cadillac SUV, as if to announce his real self to the world.
So much ink has been spilled on this sideshow that the runaway politics of the lowest common denominator have had a devastating effect on our civic democracy and collective psyche, not to mention our standing as the country's economic and cultural centre.
At times it's been very ugly. Who can forget the McCarthyite red-baiting by Ford's hooligans or the anti-gay undertow that coloured the Pride funding debates?
Our city's collective intelligence, those senior public servants at City Hall charged with speaking truth to power, are jumping ship.
Toronto is falling behind. Our labour attractiveness numbers tell us so.
Ford has broken his oath to taxpayers. He's abdicated his responsibilities, gone missing for long stretches. He's lost all legitimacy.
At a time when other cities abandoned by senior levels of government are joining forces to advocate for big ideas like a national transit strategy, Ford fiddles and goes to the wall fighting the plastic bag ban, reducing the notion of the role of city government to third-tier issues.
The leadership vacuum in the mayor's office on the transit file has allowed our provincial masters to sit back and do nothing. We don't have a mayor who can defend Toronto's interests with senior levels of government.
It's a credit to the 43 other members of council - at least, those who have finally stood up to fight the bully - that the work of the city hasn't ground to a complete halt.
The ambivalence of the first few weeks and months of his reign of error quickly turned to disinterest, and now detachment. The sucky baby of Toronto politics, the self-styled rebel with a cause, has begun acting very much like a man who's on the fast track to an inauspicious exit.
Maybe he never really wanted to be mayor. It was all his brother's idea anyway.
On the night the perfect storm happened two years ago, the TV cameras recording the moment of victory panned to Ford. He mouthed the words "Holy fuck!" as in "What now?"
Is Rob Ford really that stupid?
And does it matter?
David Miller had Ivy League smarts, but many mistook that for aloofness. The man Ford's often compared to, Mel Lastman, was no scholar but made up for what he may have lacked in grey matter with great political instincts.
Ford is living in his own imagined world, in which whatever is in his head is the only truth.
Then there's his bad behaviour, the odd sightings at odd hours, usually looking a little bleary-eyed.
Torontonians are a forgiving lot, and proved it by electing Ford in the first place despite his history of public screw-ups, including some on the campaign trail.
But his rap sheet of public drunkenness is too long to ignore, and 911 calls don't just happen. Former staffers tell stories. Councillors do, too. It's a wonder no one's dropped a dime on the guy yet. People seemed resigned to it all. There are some friends in the right places willing to protect Ford, run a little interference if and when required, it seems.
Call him a fuck-up. I see a guy who never fit in, never really left high school in many ways.
But if buddies like Mike Harris, Jim Flaherty and fishing pal the PM can't bring him to heel - get him to "smarten up," as Denzil Minnan-Wong said the other day - then Ford's self-destructiveness is out of control.
It may be time to start planning a soft landing far, far away in, say, Edmonton, where he spent part of the summer with his family, discovered fountains and penned a love letter to the people of Alberta to tell them how much he felt at one with them.
If a guy like Ralph Klein can make it there....
The killing of the conservative brand
The Ford act is growing tiring. Even his friends on talk radio have joined the chorus of condemnation over the most recent rash of embarrassments. When the mayor uses his influence to order city staff to make road repairs outside the family business, that's gravy.
Still, a few kingmakers in the Big Smoke think Ford can steal another one in 2014, are banking on a little political amnesia among the electorate to aid in that cause.
Most of them were on the mayor's recent trade mission to Chicago, which was planned as his coming out on a bigger stage. But he spent most of his time there in his hotel room complaining about negative media coverage. That's Rob these days: always tired, always complaining.
Among those in his entourage: Tory bagman Ralph Lean; Lean's bud at Cassels Brock, former Common Sense revolutionary Harris; and Tory fundraiser Jim Ginou.
Of course, those same folks would, in the words of one of the mayor's supporters, "cut him loose in a heartbeat. They're not Rob's friends." Ford is their "useful idiot" (not my words) because he happens to occupy the mayor's office.
Indeed. Some of Lean's financial backers are reportedly getting nervous about throwing in their lot with Ford.
Others among the biz class seem to be biding their time. The Board of Trade, for example, has been conspicuously quiet on the Ford front, despite its pointedly stated concerns about the lack of movement on the transit file and the billions the resulting traffic gridlock is costing Toronto's economy.
A lot seems to be riding on whether Ford can deliver a casino on the waterfront for his friends on Bay Street.
But this one may be getting away from Ford. The mayor's go-to guy, Nick Kouvalis, his former chief of staff and damage control expert every time the shit hits the fan, has been called in to work his magic on the casino file. Kouvalis showed up out of the blue on the Chicago trade trip, coming out of that affair with a deal to conduct some market research (read polling) with Sussex Strategy Group, the lobbyists behind casino frontrunner MGM's bid.
Will Karen Stintz jump in?
Behind important closed doors, discussions are taking place about who might replace Ford. Karen Stintz's name is one that won't go away.
Her political advisers insist she's not running, falling off chairs and laughing uproariously when the subject is brought up. But her close friends are saying, "If you'd asked me four weeks ago, I would have said no, but...."
The pressure may be too much for Stintz to continue to ignore.
Some in the Ford camp aren't sure she'd stay out of the race, mentioning in casual conversation City Hall lobbyists who are pushing Stintz.
The fact that a clear-cut choice from the political middle has yet to emerge, and the left's uncertainty about whether someone on the council will make a run (see the draft Olivia Chow campaign) make things look tempting for Stintz.
That One City plan of hers, ditched because some councillors thought it was conceived as a pet project to launch a future mayoral bid, is looking pretty prescient now that the province is talking about privatizing components of the LRT plan. Stintz's plan calls for raising property taxes in each of the next 30 years to pay for a city-wide transit network. Polls taken then showed the masses were all for it.
The road to election 2014
Councillors say there's much work still to do at City Hall before they start fixating on 2014, but the quiet campaigning has begun. Is there enough left of that so-called taxpayer protection plan from 2010 for Ford to run on? Maybe dusting off the promise to reduce the size of council by half, to 22, would fly.
Genius! Ford can blame council for all his failures. They're the ones standing in his way.
The other thing going for Ford: a third of Toronto will vote conservative every time out no matter who runs. And if this week's vote at council to kill the Jarvis bike lanes proves anything, it's that there are still a few councillors willing to suck on the teat of whatever remains of Ford's perceived power.
But Ford would have to turn his mind to governing to have any hope of re-election. And two years in, he's shown no inclination to do that.
A rare combination of circumstances, aided by a few timely dirty political tricks, got Ford the office last time. This time, though, folks who normally don't vote will come out just to vote against him.
Rock star no more
An Ontario PC nomination meeting at the Plast Huculak Ukrainian Centre on the Kingsway in the heart of Ford country would seem an odd place to begin writing the mayor's political obituary. It's Ford's home turf, after all.
But a year ago, Ford couldn't be bothered to give PC leader Tim Hudak the time of day. We all remember his non-endorsement.
Yet here he was on Tuesday, September 25, pumping Pina Martino, a key adviser of his, for the PCs' Etobicoke Centre riding nomination. It's a double-edged blade for Ford, whose office ranks have gotten noticeably thinner with half the 25 staff he started with two years ago gone.
The other shocking thing about this scene, besides the fact that Ford seems to be hitching his wagon to a lost cause named Hudak, is that no one was falling over themselves to talk to the mayor. Supporters have noticed the change at other events around town. Even among Ford's so-called "nation," the cult of personality is no more.
The tipping point
Looming large for Ford are the conflict-of-interest charges against him for accepting donations from lobbyists for his football foundation, on which a judge will soon rule.
Most experts agree the case is cut and dried. Ford will be found guilty. Few, however, believe he'll receive anything but a slap on the wrist.
But recent revelations about his using city-paid staff to coach football, and ordering staff to do road repair work outside the Ford family business, are complicating matters.
Should he be found guilty on the conflict charges, public pressure on Ford to resign could reach the tipping point. And to think, we're only half way through this gravy train wreck.