Mayor Rob Ford is fooling himself if he thinks that the crack-video affair will blow over.
Nothing was seen or heard of Mr. Ford over the long weekend as the city absorbed a shocking allegation that he had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine. Returning to city hall on Tuesday, he dodged the media all day, passed up a chance to say something at a morning-long city council meeting and ended his day by fleeing down the back stairs, then blowing past reporters in his black SUV. The whole city is talking about it, but, apart from a glancing encounter with reporters on Friday when he denounced the allegation as “ridiculous,” the mayor has said nothing.
It won’t do. The allegation is too grave to be left hanging.
The mayor of Canada’s biggest city is alleged to have consorted with drug dealers, smoked crack cocaine and made racist and homophobic remarks. If it is true – and it is worth repeating that, at least until someone obtains and posts a copy, no one can say whether the video is authentic – then it is the biggest scandal to hit Toronto politics in memory. As long as it stays out there unaddressed, the drug-abuse allegation will loom over the city like a thunderhead on a summer’s day.
Mr. Ford’s job is on the line. Does he really think he can keep ducking questions till everyone gets fed up and stops asking? Impossible. The questions will not let up till he gives a proper and complete account of his position on the allegations.
Reports of the affair continue to echo around the world, reaching its farthest corners. Councillor Adam Vaughan says that when his nephew reached the top of a mountain in Yellowstone Park the other day, fellow hikers teased him about the Ford affair when they heard he was Canadian.
Here at home, the affair is overshadowing important business. When city council made a historic decision on Tuesday to reject a Toronto casino, it was almost a footnote to the ongoing Rob Ford story. Already something of a lame duck after all his fumbles, the mayor is in danger of losing all remaining authority in the final 18 months of his four-year term.
Yet his ally, city council Speaker Frances Nunziata, has the nerve to lecture reporters not to harass Mr. Ford with their questions about the affair. All that the press and the public want to know is whether the mayor of the city smokes crack cocaine. If Mr. Ford is going to argue that the story is a complete fabrication and he has had nothing to do with crack or crack dealers, let him say so in a proper statement on the issue. If there is some truth in it, let him try to explain what happened. Whichever it is, he must say something.
In the past, Mr. Ford has managed to fend off reports of weird or inappropriate behaviour by issuing sharp denials and waiting for the fuss to die down. It worked when he reportedly gave a woman and her daughter the finger while driving. It worked when former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson accused him of groping her at a public event. It worked after a newspaper report that he appeared to be intoxicated while attending a military ball.
The allegation of illegal-drug use is on a whole different order of magnitude. It can’t be brushed off by calling it ridiculous and taking another swipe at the Toronto Star.
That fleeting initial response, sadly, does not count for much. Mr. Ford has a history of issuing blustering denials when caught in some sort of misbehaviour, only to confess when he is confronted with firm evidence.
When a couple said he verbally abused them at a hockey game in 2006, he denied point blank that he was even at the game and said, “Someone’s trying to do a real hatchet job on me.” He later admitted the report was true, explaining that he had been drinking.
It was the same when the Toronto Sun reported in 2010 that Florida police had found him with a joint in his pocket in 1999. “No means no,” he told the Sun, when a reporter asked if it had happened. The report was correct and he soon admitted it.
He weathered those controversies and even managed to become mayor of the city. This time is different. This one won’t go away.