Rob Ford is an extraordinary mayor in many ways, but most extraordinary is his ability to bounce back. Again and again he has been down and apparently out. Again and again, he has recovered. He is the rubber ball of Canadian politics: The harder you throw him, the faster he rebounds.
Only two months back, the drug-video affair put his name in headlines across the country and around the world. Troubled city councillors distanced themselves from the mayor. Some called for him to come clean or quit.
This week, Mr. Ford held a news conference to herald city council’s “historic” decision to back a subway to Scarborough. Seven councillors stood by his side, quite literally jostling to be next to him. Among them was TTC chair Karen Stintz, a frequent critic of the mayor who may run against him in 2014.
It was she who cooked up the last-minute scheme to replace a planned light-rail line with a subway. It was Mr. Ford who grabbed the glory, leaving others to fight for a slice of the limelight. Whether you call it good strategy or blind luck, the result is a resurgent mayor who, despite everything, is still very much a contender in next year’s election.
When city politics comes back on the boil after Labour Day, you can expect to see him in full campaign mode, boasting that he is both stopping the gravy train and starting the train to Scarborough. If the subway plan comes together, he wins big in vote-rich Scarborough. If it fails, he gets points for trying. He will make the most of his claim to have tamed the city budget and subdued the city unions. Even if his numbers do not always add up, many voters will credit him with turning the city’s finances around.
The latest opinion poll, by Forum Research in late June, put the mayor’s approval rating at 47 per cent, an improvement from the 42 per cent he scored just after the drug allegations came out. Whatever you think of the mayor, he has shown amazing resilience. To look at it another way, Toronto has shown amazing tolerance.
Imagine for a minute that this were New York. Imagine reporters there had seen a video showing Mayor Michael Bloomberg smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. Imagine a photograph had surfaced showing Mr. Bloomberg with three men, one of whom had later been murdered and two arrested. Would the mayor have survived? Could he have gone all this time without explaining how he happened to be in that picture and whether he knew the men?
Inconceivable. Yet here, for lack of further revelations to fuel the story, the video affair is fading in the summer heat. Mr. Ford has gone off on vacation in Western Canada.
The mayor has a way of turning even the worst cock-up to his advantage. Last year, he was tossed from office by a judge on a conflict-of-interest accusation that that he brought entirely on himself, but escaped on appeal. He used that affair to drive home his claim that he is the victim of a left-wing conspiracy to halt his crusade for smaller government.
There were other close calls. A court dismissed a libel allegation against him, and an audit committee declined to start legal proceedings over alleged campaign-spending violations. Each one of these scrapes seems to reinforce his reputation as the embattled regular guy who staggers back to his feet every time he is knocked down.
For those who watch him in action, the mayor’s continued acclaim is discouraging. Look on YouTube under “Matlow and Ford” and watch Councillor Josh Matlow grow apoplectic as the mayor fails to understand the simplest facts in this week’s transit debate.
But in politics, the brand often matters more than the policies, and Mr. Ford’s brand as the rumpled champion of the taxpayer remains strong despite all his stumbles. Voters, like movie-goers, like a comeback story. Keep your eyes on the screen. The rubber-ball mayor has some bounce in him yet.