What's next for Rob Ford?
Seems like premature political ejaculation to be ruminating about His Worship's political ambitions barely four months into his first year in office.
But Ford seems a tad uninterested in the goings on at City Hall, apparently keeping hours at the family labelling business in Etobicoke and continuing his constituency work, building that big ol' base one caller at a time.
Maybe it's PC party leader Tim Hudak's job Fordo really covets, or something even bigger.
He's practically PC party leader now. Word is, Ford's handpicking which PC candidates will be running in Hogtown come the fall provincial election, such is his cult-like status.
Of course, no one wants to talk about that. The idea even freaks conservatives out. Former PC leader and Newstalk 1010 radio host John Tory advises taking that tasty bit of info with "a grain of salt."
"He's a prominent, popular figure," Tory says, "so it's natural that people who might want to seek political office would run it by him."
Others in Ford's Etobicoke loop paint a different picture. "I've heard the two Ford brothers [Rob and Ward 2 Councillor Doug Jr.] are calling all the shots in Toronto," says one, who happens to be a former City Hall lobbyist. "They're very hands-on."
For sure, Ford has been astonishingly lucky. A perfect political storm brought him to power: a wave two decades in the making of voters being told that government is too big and the road to hell is paved with higher taxes.
For the first time since the Mulroney era, the Tories think they can win seats in T.O., both federally and provincially. Etobicoke North, Willowdale and Scarborough East are three ridings that come up as Tory targets in this federal election. But the whole Etobicoke-North York-Scarborough horseshoe, where Ford scored well in the municipal campaign, is in play.
Robo is certainly acting like a man with higher political aspirations. He said during the campaign that he wants to be PM.
Crazy talk, maybe. But there is that Ford Nation, the Party of Ford or the Fuck the World Taxpayers Federation, whatever you want to call it, that former chief of staff and campaign co-chair Nick Kouvalis has been dispatched to make happen.
Just think, Fordo with his very own American-style political action committee and the fat wallet to fund it. That's quite the list of volunteers and political contributors he's got tucked in his pants pocket.
If prospective PC candidates are not lining up to kiss Don Rob's ring for his political blessing, they'd better start thinking about it.
A lot of bridges were burned when Conservative power brokers at the law firm Cassels and Brock (that would be moneybags Ralph Lean and one Michael D. Harris, the former Tory preem) backed George Smitherman for mayor - and when that wasn't working, tried to draft John Tory to head off Ford.
The Harmony dinner organized by Harris, et al., a few weeks back to retire Ford's debts (and mayoral candidates Rocco Rossi's and Sarah Thomson's) was intended to repair that damage. Talk about a political payoff. Ford pocketed a tidy $800K, the amount his campaign reportedly went into the red. The only thing missing was the brown envelope.
It's all a huge reversal for Ford, a guy who couldn't buy a Tory nomination a few years ago so he could follow in the footsteps of dear old Dad, Doug Sr., a former Harris-era backbencher.
How weird is that? (Ford declined a request to be interviewed for this story).
The Ford family have always been good Tories, but outsiders, too. How loyal they are to provincial PC leader Tim Hudak's crew is open for debate.
Hudak's adopted the Ford script, taking Ford's signature Respect for Taxpayers message and turning it into "Respect for Families." Like Ford, Hudak's hammering the cost-of-living drum and promising to slay government bureaucracies like the Ontario Power Authority.
But as one MPP observes, "It's not like Hudak's parading Ford around Queen's Park."
The most former Etobicoke MPP and former House speaker Chris Stockwell can say about the Ford-Hudak relationship is that "they get along."
Ford seems more aligned with the guns-and-ammo crowd on the party's far right, headed by landowners' rights guy Randy Hillier.
Late Papa Doug, the guy who taught Ford everything he knows about the dark art, navigated the quasi-Reform wing of the party when he was a backbencher during the Harris years.
Most remember his Errol Flynn moustache. Though political friends called him a straight shooter, the truth is he was a bit of a political klutz (no offence), too much so for even Iron Mike to risk giving him a role of any significance.
Back in 99, after the Tories had reduced the number of seats in the House, and there was a battle for the Tory nomination in Etobicoke-Centre between Doug Ford and Stockwell. Ford lost.
There were Team Ford Ts back then, too, and a somewhat untidy group of supporters - everything from the Sikh community to residents from the nearby Toronto Community Housing complexes that son Rob would mine for support when he decided to carry on the Ford legacy and run for council in 2000.
Politics being the family business, Ford grasped at a young age that it's not necessarily about ideas. A chip off the old block, right down to some of the fringe types who gravitated to him during the campaign.
I mean, how many other mayoral candidates were cheered on by white rights sites? Or, more to the point, what was Ford's transportation planning guy doing accepting an invitation to speak at Paul Fromm's Alternative Forum?
Straight up: Rob Ford is a pathological exaggerator. A bit of a hypocrite. Anti-gay. Anti-immigrant. All these have been justifiably thrown at him at one time or another.
Remarkably, he's managed to keep an even keel since he got into office. No more neck-vein-popping tirades, at least not yet.
Let's be clear. He's still a nasty mofo, but the strict adherence to the script and sense of discipline acquired on the campaign trail - it's as if he took a magic mood pill or something - remain.
Most, including the Libs at Queen's Park who are worried about losing their seats in Toronto in the next election ("I don't think there are five ridings that are safe," says one Grit insider), anticipated a Ford meltdown by now.
But that hasn't happened. It's Ford preparing for his next role, maybe, trying to make us forget the greatest-hits collection of YouTube videos that paint an altogether different picture.
Is he dangerous? Most people with his single-mindedness of purpose are.
But Ford is a part of a broader phenomenon in Canadian politics - though perhaps more shameless than most, a purveyor of the new "truthiness," as Stephen Colbert calls it.
What do Rob Ford, Stephen Harper and the Republican leadership in the U.S. Congress have in common? They all deploy a political strategy, argues Patrick Fafard of University of Ottawa's graduate school of public and international affairs, in which the messages are both incoherent and very effective.
Political scientists call it "epistemological populism." Tories in Ottawa are so convinced of its power that they've jettisoned their Quebec aspirations to concentrate on Ontario and the GTA. Call it the Ford effect.
"[Epistemological populism] is a marketing technique used by pols to cut through the clutter," says Fafard. It relies heavily on repetition of a message that may or may not always get through, but its constant repetition means voters are unlikely to hear other points of view.
And it's a big lie. Remember all those promises to build subways, find $1.7 billion in waste and deliver a zero tax increase without cutting services? The reality is that we now find ourselves in a $774 million hole.
For Councillor Gord Perks, the so-called Ford phenomenon is part of a larger reality - what he describes as "the loss of the capacity to imagine that we're in the same boat as our neighbours.
"There's been a loss culturally in the belief that we should all be looking after each other," says Perks.
An awful lot of people in Toronto were hurt by the global economic meltdown of 2008, going from reasonably stable middle-class jobs to the unemployment line.
In his Three Cities Within Toronto report, U of T professor David Hulchanski noted the "sudden and dramatic" shift in the socio-economic makeup of Toronto neighbourhoods - most starkly, the 34 per cent drop in neighbourhoods with middle incomes and 31 per jump in low- and very-low-income neighbourhoods between 2000 and 07.
Perks says we need look no further to locate the breeding ground of the "anger" Ford harnessed during the municipal election.
Maybe Miller's to blame. He somehow convinced us that municipal politics is about city-building. Ford's crushing victory and the way he's managed to run roughshod over council so far seem to show it's not about that at all. In hindsight, maybe it's the Miller years that were the anomaly.
It's said that rugby is a game for barbarians played by gentlemen, and that football, Rob Ford's fave pastime (he coaches high school kids at Don Bosco), is a game for gentlemen played by barbarians. I mention this partly because Ford's predecessor, Miller, played rugby, and the irony in their differing political styles is irresistible.
Football is more than just a game of brawn. There's order in the seeming disorder. It's like chess on turf. Deception, diversion and the art of surprise are all part of the game. Little wonder, then, that the mayor prefers those with military backgrounds as staffers in his inner circle.
Lessons learned on the field have served Ford well at City Hall, where so far he's done the football equivalent of running the ball right down the throats of his opponents.
Watching the Ford crew marshal their forces on the council floor is a thing of beauty. Nothing is left to chance. Every hole in the defence is covered, and supportive councillors get cheat sheets on how to vote. Talking points are provided for those allowed to ask questions or speak to the media. A thumbs-up, thumbs-down routine signals how to vote on issues that come up unexpectedly in the course of a meeting.
As Ford policy adviser Mark Towhey was overheard saying to one councillor, "We want people who obey instructions."
The barrage has come so fast and furious - subways one day, private garbage the next - that the City Hall press gallery has been run off its feet. One minute there's a major announcement by the mayor in the members' lounge, and while reporters are off covering that, a "special meeting" of the TTC is called to discuss urgent business or the group handling Ford's Sheppard subway privatization is gathering in Councillor Norm Kelly's office.
In the six-hour news cycle, a lot is getting lost in the sausage grinder, bypassing the public consciousness altogether. This seems to be part of the plan, as is the creation of a mystique around the man himself, who's served up to the media and public in dribs and drabs.
Adding to the static: the fact that overwhelmingly we no longer get our information from the nightly news or newspapers.
The news these days is digested in small slices and from media that tend to reaffirm our own world view, which is to say we're more polarized than ever before.
How long before paranoia gets the best of Ford? It's inevitable with demigods who happen to be demagogues. Insular and controlling operations like Ford's tend to feed on themselves.
The signs of hope aren't many, but some of council's new members are beginning to find their feet.
The chaos in the council chamber is not as intimidating as it was when Ford first took power. If we're to believe the scuttlebutt, some of the mayor's supporters don't much care for him either.
Things could change in a heartbeat. Seven months from now, a Liberal, Dalton McGuinty, could be re-elected premier and the mushy middle on council could get bullish and start going after Ford.
But right now, everyone at City Hall is just trying to keep their head above water.
Rob Ford at a glance
CLAIMS TO FAME Domestic assault rap, sweaty tirades usually involving racial slurs, going after former Globe City Hall reporter John Barber in "fat fuck" YouTube video.
LIKES Doobie Brothers, Oreo cookies, punishing football team for stepping out of line (makes them roll the length of the field in full equipment until they puke).
HATES Push-ups, bikes, gravy, Toronto Star, homeless people.
AFFILIATIONS Salvation Army, Rotary Club, Board of Trade, a Russian mogul, various Florida developers and the odd strip club owner.
CHINESE LUNAR CALENDAR SIGN Rooster: selfish, outspoken, deep thinker (huh?).
CHARACTER SKETCH "My name is Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht."