You Gotta Blame The Thing Up Here

Rob Ford greets well-wishers. (Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

If you follow Toronto politics closely enough, you might have started October 31st thinking it would be spent skimming hundreds of pages of court documents in a rushed attempt to be the first kid on your block to piece together the possible involvement of Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, in the drug-dealing, violent life of his close associate, Sandro Lisi. How wrong you were.

Not more than an hour after the court-ordered release of said documents to the media, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair dropped the equivalent of a nuclear weapon on Toronto’s political scene. In a press conference, rapidly called this morning, he revealed that not only did Police have the heretofore mythical “Rob Ford Crack Video”, but they had watched it and its contents matched those described first by the US website Gawker, and then by Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan of the Toronto Star.

The response, both in the news media, and on social media, was explosive. I can think of few other events where my Twitter feed moved so fast, with both reactions to Chief Blair’s revelations, and further updates from the reporters whose job it was to parse and report on the Lisi court documents.

I happened to be at City Hall today and couldn’t help but stop by the office of the Mayor to take in the scene. Not long after I got there, an assistant emerged from within the Mayor’s office and announced that the Mayor would be speaking in 1 minute. The press, who up until this point had been throwing pennies into the middle of the City Hall rotunda, went into a frenzy, jockeying for position, yelling at each other and ignoring requests from security to move back from the Mayor’s doors. As blood started to pool under the dog pile, the melee briefly parted, Red Sea-like, to allow an elderly lady to enter, and then quickly leave the Mayor’s office.  20 minutes or so after the assistant said the Mayor would appear in 1 minute, Ford waded into the throng of reporters. So tightly packed were the media that some of them had taken to standing on chairs or step-ladders, trying to get above the fray while still being in the fray. Global’s Jackson Proskow, who had apparently taken a side gig changing the light fixtures at City Hall, was highest of them all, perched precariously over the entire group, straining to get his mic into place.

What followed was, for the briefest moment, incredible. Ford took a breath and said:

“I think everybody’s seen the allegations against me today. I wish I could come out and defend myself, but unfortunately I can’t because…”

Go back and watch the video, he draws out this first sentence to such a degree, you might be forgiven for thinking the impossible was about to happen. The Mayor of Toronto was about to admit that he can’t defend himself because it’s all true. Ford was red-faced, he was nervous, he was about to do something profound and honest before it all went wrong.

I honestly think the Mayor planned to come out and admit his wrongdoing. When I first saw him exit his office, he looked to me the way kids look when they’re about to admit to breaking a window, a transgression they’d previously blamed on the kid down the street. But then, as scared children often do, Ford chickened out, falling back on a lame and ultimately wrong assertion that he couldn’t comment because some matter was before some court. The whole imbroglio, from Ford exiting his office to the collapse of his flirtation with honesty, was a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. And no one was quicker to miss it than the City Hall press gallery.

After his willpower failed, the press eagerly paved him a highway back to his comfort zone, earnestly shrieking out questions about his possible resignation. Ford saw the way out; he wouldn’t let the press treat him like this, again. Not when he’d come out here to give them exactly what they wanted and found them gnawing on each other’s legs. Couldn’t these animals, who from Ford’s perspective ruin ever press opportunity their given, behave themselves long enough for him to say what he so badly wanted to say? Nope. The Ford smirk returned, and with it the old talking points. The moment was dead.

Proskow, now magically hovering above the press horde, his closely-trimmed beard subtly radiating, started bellowing about how Mayor’s should behave, which signalled the end of the scrum for the Mayor. The press had ruined his moment; the magic was gone. And when your willpower has collapsed as spectacularly and quickly as Ford’s just did, the last thing you’ll tolerate is a levitating TV reporter asking you unanswerable questions.

And that was it. All the newspapers, some more ironically than others, demanded Ford resign. Predictably, none of the calls for resignations were paired with apologies for past endorsements, but one can only go so lucky so many times a day. I suspect the editors of papers like the Post and Sun would robustly point out how the Ford of 2010 was necessary correction after 8 years of David Miller. They might not mention that all the un-Mayor-like behaviour they now decry was plainly on display well before the election, as were the obvious shortcoming in Ford’s platform. But shit, Miller was the devil, or something.

So, what happens now? Robyn Doolittle gets to be a celebrity reporter for a couple more days, carefully maintaing a 3/4 profile to the camera in all TV interviews, while Kevin Donovan wonders what the hell happened. The Sun will turn all its attention to Queens Park, hammering Wynne until the Liberals finally collapse under their own mountain of lies and unsaid truths. Meanwhile, the Globe and Post will hope to Christ the Conservatives keep imploding so they too can ignore the ongoing non-resignation of Toronto’s chief bottle-washer. Ford, for his part, will oblige them and not resign, now or ever. That possibility arrived, was brutally mishandled, and died, never to return.

Those who support the Mayor will go on supporting him, unbowed. Have you ever had to teach your less sophisticated uncle or cousin how to use their iPhone? You think you’ll have better luck explaining how the City works? Give it up. So long as Ford is in the game, the 30% stays 30%.

For the rest of us, I recommend an informal primary season. With any luck, by the time the election really starts we’ll be tired of calling each other stupid assholes for supporting “obviously inferior” candidates, and might be ready to rally behind someone in the manner required to defeat Rob Ford and his ever-present 30%. If we leave all the acrimony we lobbed at each other in 2010 until the end, we might as well skip the election and spend the money on booze. I hear Russian Prince is pretty good.

Somewhere, Jackson Proskow is entering a geo-stationary orbit, the various cameramen and camerawomen of the press corps are dressing their bite wounds, the City Hall plant-waterer is keeping an ever-lower profile, and Rob Ford is sitting at home, wondering how to get out, while also satiating his desire to stay all the way in. In the midst of this, the City of Toronto limps along, rudderless, always just shy of greatness on a grand scale, buoyed by the multitudes of small-scale greatness that’s been left to carry the increasingly heavy load of our growing metropolis. They can’t take the strain forever. Eventually we’re gonna have to get it together. Sooner would be better.

Oh, and next time, just let the man talk.

4 thoughts on “You Gotta Blame The Thing Up Here

  1. When all is said and done about Thursday October 31 2013 as a date in Toronto’s History, this article will increasingly become prescient as we approach October 27 2014.

    Thank you Joshua for seizing and sharing the moment the entire City Hall Press Gallery in their haste had an inability to grasp.

    HiMY SYeD

  2. You make a compelling argument, except for the part where you actually believe that Rob Ford would have come clean, if only those reporters had politely allowed him to speak. Clearly, you don’t know Rob Ford.

    • I’m surprised by how robustly some reject suggestions that Ford is anything but a one-dimensional character. This is a man who, while carrying on to some degree as “Mayor” of Toronto, has maintained a major drug and alcohol habit, consorted with gang members, and bounced from one folly to the next, all while maintaining a decent approval rating. If you don’t think a in that situation, however awful they are, is capable of multitudes, then I’d suggest you’re too heavily invested in his spectre and not paying enough attention to the man himself.

      • I’ve been paying attention to the man for the past 10 years. I’m not sure why you’re dismissively concluding that I think he’s “one-dimensional”, that’s not my point. The fact is, he has a very long history of sticking to his denials even in the face of widespread evidence. After being ejected from a Leafs game in 2006 for disruptive behaviour (such as yelling “how’d you like your little wife to be raped and shot in Iran?”), he repeatedly denied that he’d even BEEN at that game. Eventually, yes, he did admit that he’d lied, and more or less came clean, so there is a precedent. But in the context of Ford’s lies and denials over 10 years, that stands out as a rare exception.

        Also, I take issue with “maintaining a decent approval rating”. During his entire tenure so far, Ford’s approval rating has rarely exceeded 50%, usually hovering in the low-to-mid-40s. In contrast, David Miller’s approval rating was the high 60s for much of his term, until the garbage strike caused it to plummet in the final stretch.

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