Rob Ford Photo by STEVE RUSSELL / Getstock & Marion Barry Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS / Getty Images
For the lone wolf mayor, the crisis enveloping his administration over allegations he was caught on video smoking crack, and the mass exodus of staff that followed, has served to clarify matters. There's no more comfortable place to be for a guy who sees the world in black and white terms and is notorious for playing the victim.
As the bedlam reached a climax last week, there was no hint of hesitation in Ford's voice when he declared that he'll run again in 2014. And that his will be the first name on the ballot, in case you wanted to know.
As he told the assembled media while refusing to answer their questions about crack and fleeing staffers, he was elected to cut spending and reduce the size of government, and that's exactly what he's done. At every press conference since the crack story broke, he repeats that list of accomplishments (if you want to call them that).
Audacity? Sure. But he's also sending a message to the kingmakers on Bay Street who've reportedly abandoned him that he's been a dutiful soldier in the conservative cause.
Word is, the moneybags are looking for another horse to back. The name of perennial mayoral candidate John Tory, who does the evening drive show at CFRB, is being kicked around - again. Yes, Toronto, it's back to the future.
Rob's biggest defender in the corridors of power on Bay, Ralph Lean, the lawyer to the stars who's supposed to be bankrolling Ford's 2014 bid, recently jumped from Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, the firm famous for anointing mayors, to Heenan Blaikie.
Officially, the story is that Ralphie wanted a longer contract than Cassels Brock was prepared to offer. At least that's the version Lean offered Canadian Lawyer Magazine in an April interview. He also told Canadian Lawyer that he's backing Rob in 2014 because of his "economic performance." But it's unclear if he still will in light of the crack allegations. He did not return my call requesting clarification on that.
But another story making the rounds is that senior partners at Cassels Brock were worried about Lean's close proximity to party boy Ford and the optics for the firm.
Lean has always been an autonomous player, but it's telling that the bigwigs at Cassels Brock were willing to dispense with the services of the guy with the biggest Rolodex in the business.
There was more evidence that Bay Street has gone cold on Ford last week.
In fact, the PCs dispatched House Leader Jim Wilson to make it clear that big brother Doug Ford, the councillor for Etobicoke North, would have to fight for the nomination if he wants to run provincially for the party. Wilson claimed not even to know Doug. Doug who? Talk about a kick in the nuts.
In April, PC leader Tim Hudak was crowing about how he'd love to have Doug as a candidate. Now, all of a sudden, he's a political pariah. Hudak ran away from the Queen's Park press corps Tuesday, June 4, when asked about Rob's troubles. Not long ago, in the heat of that conflict-of-interest shitstorm, Hudak was breaking bread with the Fords at the family BBQ.
The fightin' Fords are back where they started with the PCs, when neither one of them could buy a nomination to run for the party.
Those allegations in the Globe about Doug dealing drugs in a previous life and the Ford family's ties to neo-Nazis have complicated matters.
You'd think the Fords were owed a little more respect or the benefit of the doubt, given old man Doug Ford Sr.'s ties to the party. He served as an MPP under Mike Harris.
But stories about more than the mayor's current crack problems are finding their way up to Queen's Park. And there may be more than political posturing in Premier Kathleen Wynne's not-so-veiled threat to look for ways to intervene if the mayor can't handle what she termed his "personal issues."
Legally speaking, there's not much she can do. There's no criminal investigation of the mayor, at least that we know of. But should the incriminating video surface, the political pressure may be too much for Ford to resist. At least one member of his executive, Jaye Robinson, has encouraged Ford to take a leave of absence.
And more potentially embarrassing details of the mayor's relationship to murder victim Anthony Smith and one of his alleged killers, Nisar Hashimi, will come out as the case wends its way through court in the coming months.
But the conservative forces have even bigger problems than the outlandish figure sitting in the mayor's chair in Toronto.
The mayor's angling buddy in Ottawa, Stephen Harper, is smelling like fish wrap these days, what with all those Senate appointees allegedly on the take on the taxpayers' dime. And the Federal Court confirmed last week that the HarperCons cheated their way to electoral victory in more than a half-dozen ridings using robocalls in 2011.
Amidst the shifting political sands in BC and Ontario, the conservative brain trust will have to find something besides attack ads, big money and political amnesia to keep their hold on power.
Observers are hedging their bets on whether Ford can survive this scandal. He's rich, but nowhere near rich enough to drop a million bucks to get re-elected. Lest we forget, it was Ford's friends-no-more at Cassels Brock who bailed him out of the $700K debt he incurred during the last campaign.
Much has been made of the recent Forum poll showing Ford's base mostly intact despite the crack allegations. But dig a little deeper and the numbers aren't so good. That poll also showed that half of Torontonians believe the incriminating video exists. More importantly, half think Ford has not been good for Toronto, compared to 33 per cent who think he has.
That plan to cut council in half that Ford has tucked in his back pocket may win a few votes.
But the comparisons to former DC mayor Marion Barry, who was caught on video smoking crack and went on to win re-election years later, don't fit so neatly into the Ford Nation myth (see sidebar).
The Barry parallels do mesh in a few regards, though. Before Barry hit rock bottom, his hold on his office had become tenuous. There were rumours of substance and alcohol abuse. Observers noted public appearances marked by unusual behaviour and slurred speech. He spent little time at the office. Political allies were encouraging him to take a leave. Sound familiar?
Rob Ford vs Marion Barry
Can Rob Ford survive the crack scandal? Some pundits think so, pointing to the re-election of Marion Barry, the former Washington, DC mayor caught on video smoking crack. Does the comparison fit?
Rob Ford Can't get any more white-bread.
Marion Barry Mississippi-born school of hard knocks; had a number of jobs growing up, including picking cotton.
Rob Ford Owes everything he has to his old man, former Mike Harris-era MPP Doug Ford Sr.
Marion Barry Earned his stripes in civil rights movement; organized free food distribution programs for poor black residents after 1968 riots in DC.
Early claims to fame
Rob Ford Shot his mouth off in a drunken tirade at ACC and then lied about it.
Marion Barry Got shot in 77 and heralded as a hero when radicals from the Nation of Islam overran DC city council building and held hostages for two days.
Rob Ford On a wave of anger and animosity towards "gay elites" supposedly running Toronto.
Marion Barry On credentials as an activist and president of board of education.
Rob Ford Allegedly caught on a cellphone video (that has yet to materialize) showing him cavorting with gangbangers and making homophobic and racist remarks.
Marion Barry Caught on tape in an FBI sting operation involving his ex-girlfriend, a police informant. Barry claims he was set up.
Rob Ford Has the backing of conspiracy theorists and conservative talk radio show hosts who think the alleged tape is a fabrication.
Marion Barry Served six months in jail on charge of cocaine possession; elected to council after release and as mayor two years later. Did not seek a fifth mayoral term but currently serves as councillor.