It had all the elements of a blockbuster movie, starring Rob Ford as “The Teflon Mayor” — a scandal-riddled big-city mayor falling from grace and then rising to his former glory.
Ford went from being captured on video allegedly doing drugs and uttering profanities, being propelled to global spotlight for his indiscretions, appearing on a late-night talk show, entering rehab and taking a leave of absence at the height of a re-election campaign. Then after returning to city hall, acknowledging his substance use and apologizing for his behaviour, and continuing on with the mayoral campaign with gusto.
But then, Ford was dealt another crisis – doctors discovered a tumour in his abdomen after being admitted to hospital for abdominal pain, and a biopsy had to be done.
The plot digressed to a not-so-happy ending, but took a dramatic turn on Sept. 12, when Ford withdrew from the mayoral race and submitted his papers to run as a councillor in Ward 2, while his brother, then councillor Doug Ford, filed his papers to run for mayor – an hour before the city’s nomination deadline.
“My heart is heavy when I tell you that I’m unable to continue my campaign for re-election as your mayor,” he said in a statement.
“Now I could be facing a battle of my lifetime, and I want the people of Toronto to know that I intend to face this challenge head on, and win.”
At a news conference, an emotional Doug Ford said his brother needed him “to take the torch while he focuses on getting better.” Doug lost to John Tory on Oct. 27, coming in second place with 33.72 per cent of the vote, while Tory captured 40.27 per cent.
On Sept. 17, Dr. Zane Cohen, a colorectal surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital, revealed Ford was diagnosed with malignant liposarcoma — a rare form of abdominal cancer. Ford has since completed five rounds of chemotherapy.
And now, we wait to find out how the plot develops. For now, Ford has returned to Ward 2 Etobicoke North, the ward he previously held before becoming mayor in 2010, after easily winning it in October’s municipal election.
Although weakened by chemotherapy, a confident Ford vowed a comeback, saying “I guarantee: In four more years, you’re going to see another example of the Ford family never ever giving up.”
But, Dr. Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist professor at the University of Toronto, doesn’t think Ford — if he does run in the next mayoral election — will be elected mayor.
“Absolutely not,” Nelson said adamantly. “I don’t think he has a chance — I’m not sure he’ll live until then.”
“Let’s see what his run his health goes. […] So even though if he does live, I’m not a medical doctor, I don’t know what kind of condition he’ll be in. But I know the other councillors won’t take him seriously. I don’t think they took him seriously before.”
However, on Dec. 16, the former mayor confirmed to CityNews political specialist Cynthia Mulligan that his tumour has shrunk by more than 50 per cent. He said the next step is 25 sessions of radiation. Doctors have not provided an update on his condition.
Back when Ford was a councillor, no one in the political and public sphere thought he would become mayor. But he had the support of his constituents of Ward 2, who Wiseman said embraced him and liked him.
“He obviously had good ties with the community. They say all politics is local, but his was micro-local and he leveraged that into a macro impact. But also, he had very poor opposition in 2010. He was running against Smitherman who was discredited […] so I don’t think he could [have] beaten maybe Olivia Chow in 2010.”
During his four-year mayoral term, Ford weathered a host of controversies, including the crack-cocaine scandal and police investigation, public intoxications, a conflict-of interest lawsuit that almost saw him kicked out of office, being accused of reading and using his cellphone while driving, and facing a forensic audit of his campaign spending. And through it all, it seemed nothing could stick to the “Teflon Mayor.”
But, Wiseman is not a believer of the “Teflon Mayor” reference, saying that when he asked back in the spring/summer if Ford could get re-elected as mayor, he said, “no, no way.”
Hollywood star or public mockery?
Ford appeared to be catapulted to “Hollywood” fame. In February, the former mayor and his brother, then councillor Doug Ford, launched a video series on YouTube called Ford Nation, after their radio show was cancelled on Newstalk 1010. The Ford brothers also travelled to Los Angeles in March, saying they met many people in the film industry and touted Toronto as a possible movie location.
The former mayor even made two appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live — a brief walk-on after the Oscars on March 3, and 15-minute sit-down the day after, with Kimmel pressing the former mayor about his notorious behavior. The late-night television host also appeared on an episode of Ford Nation in April.
However, according to some political experts, Ford garnered the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. He was heavily criticized by politicians and citizens, scrutinized by the media, and provided fodder for late-night talk show hosts in the United States. Even the controversial pop star Justin Bieber reportedly approached Ford at Toronto’s Musik nightclub, jokingly asking if he had any crack.
Wiseman disputes the fact that Ford was regarded as a Hollywood star, adding that “he couldn’t even get into the Academy Awards.”
“Big deal, he did appearance on one late-night talk show and they made fun of him on a number of others. It’s like a throwaway item,” he said.
“He’s an international news story because of the crack cocaine and he was amusing on the late-night shows because some of his antics.”
Case in point: Actor Kevin Spacey, who had appeared on Kimmel before the former mayor’s first appearance, also poked fun at Ford, saying, “that’s the first time I’ve had to follow a Ford, and one that was so banged up.”
After the Ford brothers returned from their visit to Los Angeles, Doug slammed Spacey after being told they couldn’t take a picture with him. Spacey followed up by saying, “all you had do was to ask, guys,” and tweeted a Photoshopped image of him with the two brothers.
When did Mayor Ford start doing what people tell him to do? All you had to do was ask, guys. Here’s your pic. pic.twitter.com/DtDTqAl8Lb
— Kevin Spacey (@KevinSpacey) March 15, 2014
The scandals and public mockery seemed to draw attention away from the business of running city hall. Although Ford said he promoted Toronto during his L.A. trip, Wiseman said they have nothing to show for it.
“They said ‘oh, you know, we went to all these parties’ […] we handed out our cards, we’re going to bring all this business to Toronto.’ I’d like to see one production that’s here, that’s associated with Rob Ford,” he said.
Drug scandal continues with court documents
The crack cocaine scandal, which emerged in the spring of 2013, and details of a Toronto police investigation involving Ford and alleged gang members would continue to haunt Ford in 2014.
In mid-March, a Toronto judge released portions of an information to obtain (ITO) police document that showed Ford and Lisi were under surveillance two months before the crack scandal broke in May. They were two of the 59 people being watched by police, as part of the year-long gang investigation in Etobicoke dubbed Project Traveller, during which police discovered a video allegedly showing Ford smoking crack cocaine.
The police investigation into Ford and Lisi soon intensified with Project Brazen 2, with police allegations in the Project Traveller document being used to obtain search warrants for Project Brazen 2.
Wiretaps under Project Traveller revealed Ford attended a so-called “trap house” or “crack house” at 15 Windsor Dr. — the residence where police believe the crack video was filmed – and a party named in the gang probe allegedly stole Ford’s cellphone. The document also revealed the video was filmed during the Family Day weekend in 2013. Police also allege the same suspected gang member who recorded the cellphone video of Ford is seen in another video describing how to “catch a mayor smoking crack.”
In April, unsealed redacted portions of the police document showed alleged gang members of the Dixon Road community in Etobicoke were afraid that police and Ford’s associates would raid the neighbourhood in search of the crack video. The document also alleged Lisi threatened one of the men who allegedly stole Ford’s phone, saying he and “everybody on your block is dead” and that if the video is released, he and police will “run through all of your houses.”
More ranting and profanities
Defiant in the face of calls for his resignation, Ford appeared to be taking the road to redemption in 2013 by saying he would seek help from healthcare professionals for his excessive drinking. In an interview on a news program, Ford said he had quit drinking. But as soon as the new year arrived, Ford seemed to be back to his old ways. Towards the end of January, Ford admitted to drinking after yet another video — recorded at the Steak Queen restaurant in Etobicoke — surfaced that showed him swearing in Jamaican patois and slurring his speech.
On April 30, the Toronto Sun published an audio recording of Ford ranting obscenities and making lewd comments about and his wife, Renata as well as mayoral candidate Karen Stintz. On the same day, the Globe and Mail published a story saying that two of its reporters had seen a video showing Ford smoking from a small copper-coloured pipe, reportedly filmed in Ford sister’s basement and with Lisi seen in the background. The Globe, and well as Gawker, published still images of Ford from the alleged video. In a television interview after returning from rehab, Ford said it was a crack pipe and that he was smoking the drug.
Mayor takes leave of absence
Amid a series of bombshell developments on April 30, Ford’s lawyer Dennis Morris said Ford would be taking a leave of absence from his mayoral duties and election campaigning to seek “immediate” professional help for what he called a “problem with alcohol.”
“I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence. I have struggled with this for some time,” Ford said in a statement released on that late-April evening, adding he would be taking “some time to think about my own well-being, how to best serve the people of Toronto and what is in the best interests of my family.”
But, controversy seemed to follow Ford during his rehab stint at the GreeneStone Residential Addiction Treatment Centre in Muskoka. On May 22, Ford’s Cadillac Escalade, being driven by LeeAnne McRobb, was stopped by police near the facility, but Ford was not in the vehicle.
McRobb, 36, was charged with impaired driving and has since pleaded guilty. She told the Toronto Sun they were “best buddies” in rehab, but that it was a platonic relationship.
Ford owns up to his drug addiction
Just over a year after the crack video scandal surfaced, Ford — who once denied allegations of drug and alcohol abuse — returned to work at city hall on June 30 after addiction treatment. A remorseful, apologetic, slimmer and non-confrontational Ford said he has begun to take control over his life, and vowed to continue his mayoralty bid.
“When I look back on some of the things I have said and did, when I was using, I am ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated. I was wrong and I have no one to blame but myself,” he said in his first public address since entering rehab.
“This is a long, long road to recovery. And no matter what I do, I will never be able to change the mistakes that I have made in the past.”
Ford went from being tight-lipped or denying his substance abuse to revealing all in sit-down interviews with media outlets. He admitted to being an addict for several years and using an array of drugs like crack, marijuana and mushrooms, which he said turned him into a different person — one who was captured on video recording using racist, sexist and homophobic slurs, to being intoxicated at city hall.
“When you have this disease, you do things and you say things that just aren’t you,” Ford told CBC News.
Ford said he would continue to battle his addictions for the rest of his life, and that he was taking it “one day at a time.”
“I have a chronic disease. I was born with blond hair. I was born with this disease and I’m going to die with this disease.”
Phoenix rising from the ashes?
Ford Nation remains loyal to the Ford and his family, evident at Ford Fest in September where Rob gave a rousing speech to a cheering crowd. Their supporters were partly responsible for getting Doug Ford a second-place showing in the mayoral election with 330,610 votes.
Since October 2013, Rob Ford and former mayoral candidate Olivia Chow battled for first place in most polls, including Forum Research, with Chow mainly in the lead. His numbers dropped significantly in June but started to pick up after post-rehab, moving into second place behind Tory by August.
After Rob dropped out and Doug stepped in the race, Tory maintained his lead in subsequent polls but the two rivals were neck-and-neck in one of the Forum polls conducted in early October. It appeared support for Rob was transferred to his brother.
While it is too early to tell if Rob will attempt another mayoral bid, given his health issues, political scientist Dr. Wiseman believes “Rob Ford is finished as a political force.”
“I think he could get 20 per cent in an election,” Wiseman said, referring to Ford’s chances in the next mayoral election.
“Unlike John Tory, who ran and lost a number of elections and came back, OK, he was identified as a loser but he wasn’t tarnished, and Ford is tarnished.”
And while the support of Ford Nation exists, which Wiseman pegged at around 20-25 per cent, he doesn’t think that is enough to win a mayoral election.
“He’s got no growth potential — that’s the problem,” Wiseman said.
Even if he gets better health-wise and has a good councillor term, Wiseman said the drug scandal would continue to hover over him, and that “whenever people think about Rob Ford, they’ll think about that […] what else should I remember him for? That they fought about subways, that he returned phone calls?”
But as Ford prophesied in his councillor victory speech on Oct. 27, the Ford family is resilient and will be back to seek higher power in 2018. Already, two Fords are in public office, including his nephew Michael Ford who was elected Toronto District School Board trustee in Ward 1 Etobicoke North.
While Wiseman doesn’t discount that either Ford or another member of the family could run for mayor, he thinks “they’re all tarnished.”
“I think they have potential in Etobicoke — end of sentence, end of potential, that’s about it. And I’m not even sure, there, how long that will last.”