In both its tone and time span, the Rob Ford administration has come to feel like a surreal and often anarchic telethon. We’ve grown used to an increasingly bizarre cast of D-list celebrities and stricken-looking volunteers asking us to pledge our pity to Rob Ford, lest he go off the air. The lines are always open for us to give and any sympathy sent the mayor’s way is matched tenfold with a gift from the family foundation.
As evidence of the mayor’s crimes (indeed, indictable offences) has mounted the family’s spin that Rob Ford is more sinned-against than sinning has required an awe-inspiring victimization escalation: Mr. Ford’s questioning by reporters is presented as Pit and the Pendulum-esque torture.
Last November, the mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, compared his fellow councillors asking his brother about his drug use with the passion of Christ, saying what was been done to the mayor was “kind of like what was done to Jesus.”
Doug’s hyperbole was barely remarked upon here in the land of Sad Ford Fatigue.
This week, Mr. Ford, already low in the polls, was backed into a corner when another tape of him appearing to smoke crack cocaine surfaced along with an audio recording indisputably showing him to be an awful man. He, prudently, announced that he would take a 30-day leave to deal with what he presented as a drinking problem.
The cynical – hell, just the sentient among you – may wonder if this stint in what we’re told is rehab is just another campaign expense – the world’s biggest fridge magnet.
“It’s not easy to be vulnerable,” Mr. Ford said (pledge now!) in a written statement about his leave that made no apology to any of the groups he insulted in that recorded conversation. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just list groups he omitted.
Iceland, kittens, you can go home.
“Gays” and women, you know the drill and perhaps you remember a time (three years ago) and a place (Toronto) where saying, “If you don’t get a shot in two seconds I’ll knock your [expletive] teeth out” to a waitress, let alone, “No, no, I don’t want that [expletive] dago down there to start...,” as Rob Ford does on that tape, could only have meant an imminent resignation. Now, we will be asked again to forgive our “sorry” mayor and move on and eventually to vote Ford.
We might as well change our civic motto to “Toronto: maybe your city’s perfect.”
There’s a video from 2011 on YouTube I sometimes watch, to change the channel from Mr. Ford’s perpetual pity-athon. In it, then-14-year-old Anika Tabovaradan, a resident of Scarborough, gives a deposition at 2 a.m. during a 22-hour Toronto City Hall executive committee meeting on proposed service cuts.
Ms. Tabovaradan clearly genuinely hates speaking in public, as she states, and indeed she breaks down crying right away. She still manages to make her case: She relies on the library and if branches close, the already lengthy lines to use the computers to do her homework will get even longer. Her schoolwork will suffer, she fears.
Ms. Tabovaradan wants to get a good job one day, she says, and to pay taxes so that other people have access to libraries. Her deposition would have melted a heart of stone. The crowd watching her applauded; many, including me, teared up.
Rob Ford has made a prime-time drama out of wanting to be left alone, acted out in every spotlight he can find. He plays a person forced to be in the public eye by a selfless desire to make the city a better place. But he sat before the real deal that night appearing bored during Ms. Tabovaradan’s brief statement, which he punctuated bluntly with, “Is that it? Is that the end of your deposition?”
Bookmark that video. Watch it often. I suspect a stone-cold-sober Rob Ford, and for his sake, and for the sake of his family, I hope that happens, would still be that man. He’d still have a profoundly myopic vision of Toronto’s future – a certainty that the city needs only the things that the heir to Deco Labels needs. Fewer libraries, more casinos. Even his extravagant plan for a subway seems rooted in a concern that there’s transit on, or even adjacent to (in the case of the vastly superior and less expensive light-rail plan he cavalierly threw out), his roads.
Dry as a bone, I bet Rob Ford would still be a man who has a billion in civic savings the way some people have imaginary friends and the word “wop” doesn’t suddenly pop into one’s lexicon when one is drunk.
Consider that please, Toronto, because sometimes it’s just beautiful what a town without pity can do.