Cheol Joon Baek
There was a backyard BBQ at the Ford family compound on Friday, September 7.
And what a party it was, with beer, burgers and plenty of bluster from the big cheese himself, Mayor Rob Ford, who used the occasion to declare the 2014 mayoralty race on. The crowd cheered. Women presented their babies to be kissed. The mayor ate up the love.
But after that Nixonian "I am not a liar" mess on the witness stand last week in his stare-down with Clayton Ruby over conflict of interest charges, the mayor's approval ratings have sunk again.
It may be too early to start considering possible rivals in 2014, though the behind-the-scenes jockeying has already begun.
And since the mayor started it, let's consider that Forum Research poll that came out last week in the wake of Ford's court appearance. Not good news for Rob.
So low have his political fortunes fallen that even former politicos who some allege have gotten away with murder (that would be ex-Liberal attorney general Michael Bryant) are among the contenders being mentioned who could give Ford a run for his money.
Talk about a weird scene. Ford hates bikes and has mused about making cyclists into hood ornaments. Bryant reportedly owns a bike but was charged with criminal negligence causing death in a highly publicized altercation involving bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard in 2009.
Bryant has been flogging a book about that experience, making media rounds that last week included a private event at the Toronto Reference Library (on the same day Ford took the stand in his conflict of interest hearing) and an appearance on TVO Tuesday, September 11.
The smart money isn't on his making a political comeback right now, at least not at the municipal level.
He's left the door open on the question of a return to political life, but that prospect would seem more long-term than a 2014 shot at the mayoralty.
Before his shocking run-in with Sheppard, the one-time rising star was viewed as Premier Dalton McGuinty's possible successor. But Bryant is still the object of public ill will over his role in Sheppard's death and the dropping of charges against him. Perhaps that will change with time.
Some in provincial Liberal party ranks don't want him back, recalling his me-first attitude and publicity-seeking at the expense of the premier when he served in government. But then there are those Grits, an influential cadre, who still like Bryant, believe he's been humbled by the Sheppard experience and think his story of personal redemption makes a compelling political comeback narrative.
His old St. Paul's riding is currently held by Eric Hoskins, but there's been talk of Bryant running in Trinity-Spadina, the downtown ward that's been held by NDPer Rosario Marchese for the better part of the last two decades and is viewed as a perennial soft target for the Libs. Marchese just held on against Sarah Thomson in the last provincial runoff.
Still, the scuttlebutt about Bryant challenging Ford won't go away.
If that isn't strange enough, the same Forum poll says George Smitherman, who lost resoundingly to Ford in 2010, would clobber the mayor if an election were held today.
The prospect of either man's taking on Ford may seem remote, even outlandish - except an obvious Ford opponent from council's political middle has yet to emerge.
Shelley Carroll's name has been kicked around, but whether the popularity numbers add up to a serious challenge is another matter. From the left, Adam Vaughan is most often mentioned, and word is the pieces are slowly being put in place for him to mount a challenge. Vaughan has certainly taken on the mantle of the mayor's most vociferous critic, but he, too, may be biding his time.
Still, Ford's scrambled testimony seems to have struck a nerve, the Forum poll showing that a good number of those who voted for the mayor - some 15 per cent - think he should be bounced if found guilty of conflict charges.
While polls capture only a moment in time, this one gives the clearest picture so far of how the wider public views Ford's legal troubles. And it's not at all as council's progressives had suspected - that the conflict charges would boomerang, winning Ford sympathy and making his political opponents look like they were trying to hijack the democratic process.
That's the line the mainstream media took in editorials, all of them advocating that the judge spare the axe even if the mayor's found guilty.
But there's no longer any need to fear Ford, whatever the outcome of the court case. The mystique is going, going.... The political damage has been done. Those pictures of the mayor literally high-tailing it to get away from the media, being rushed out of court by a phalanx of cops to his getaway Caddy SUV during breaks in his hearing last week, can't be spun as anything but bad optics.
I can see the TV attack ads now. Black screen. An image of an embattled Ford comes slowly into focus, a huge red stamp reading "Guilty" across his face. Then the voice-over. "Rob Ford said he'd stop corruption at City Hall. So why was the self-styled ‘man of the people' hitting up lobbyists doing business with the city for cash donations to his private charity football foundation?"
There's always the possibility that the public will shrug off a conviction on conflict charges, just as they have the lying, the domestic problems culminating in 911 calls and a host of other Fordian slips.
That assumes voters are too dumb or too apathetic to care. But unlike the 2010 runoff, which was more about David Miller and the economy than Ford, in 2014 the mayor will have to run on his own record, which is a little thin, to say the least.
The City Hall press corps have begun to bare their teeth where Ford's concerned. How could they not after the BS he tried to sell on the stand?
Ford's ducking out of the Executive Committee meeting Monday, September 10, to coach football, a transgression that a few months ago would have been ignored by the mainstream media, was item number one at City Hall the next day.
Not to read too much into the Forum poll, but while his Ford Fest last weekend reportedly drew "thousands," the numbers brother Doug was predicting - enough to fill the Rogers Centre or the ACC - never materialized.
Even after talking up the event on radio and in the papers, it's clear the Fords must have felt insecure. Otherwise, they wouldn't have felt the need to send robocall invitations to targeted hotbeds of support across the city.
And since we're talking numbers, it's worth mentioning that the city councillors who showed up could be counted on one hand.