With crack cocaine allegations involving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford swirling into a sixth day, and the city becoming fodder for late-night talk shows, the mayor’s brother took to the microphone to try to quell the continuing scandal – but councillors and public relations experts said the damage control attempt was unlikely to work.
Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s older brother, read a 9 1/2-minute statement at City Hall Wednesday, alternately praising the mayor and swiping at the media. Councillor Ford’s assistant told reporters moments before the statement that the councillor would not take questions, and Councillor Ford ignored the many queries that were shouted his way by some of the dozens of journalists in attendance.
He shed no new light on the drug allegations, repeating the brief, blanket denial the mayor made last week, when he called reports he was caught on video using crack cocaine “ridiculous.”
“Rob is telling me these stories are untrue, that these accusations are ridiculous, and I believe him,” the councillor said. “I don’t know how much more he can say.”
Councillor Ford spent much of his time in front of the cameras recapping his brother’s accomplishments in office instead of providing new information about the controversy. At one point he cited the amount of development taking place in Toronto, saying there are “184 cranes in our city.”
His fellow councillors were quick to voice their disappointment.
“I certainly want to hear something from Rob, not from Doug, and hopefully we will,” Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, one of the mayor’s closest allies, said after listening to the statement.
Councillor Josh Matlow tweeted shortly after: “The only person who can move our city past this is Mayor Ford by honestly addressing questions. The mayor must put Toronto before himself.”
Scott Reid, principal at Feschuk.Reid communications, said he was “puzzled” about why Councillor Ford read the statement at all.
“It doesn’t advance any interest – not the mayor’s, not the city of Toronto’s, so what was its intention? It doesn’t satisfy the fundamental question.
“It doesn’t improve the mayor’s standing. It only exacerbates and irritates the situation,” he said.
Mr. Reid said Councillor Ford would have done well to deny the allegations more forcefully and that his statement failed “to address the fundamental issues – what is the mayor going to do about this enormous threat to his standing and reputation and capacity to function as mayor?”
Mat Wilcox, chief executive officer of public relations and consulting firm Wilcox Group, said there is only one person who can respond to the issue and that’s the mayor himself.
“No one else – not his family, not his handlers, nor his colleagues or associates can speak on his behalf,” Ms. Wilcox said.
Mitch Joel, president of marketing agency Twist Image, said the longer the mayor remains quiet the worse the situation will appear.
He said it was a perfect example of what is known as the “Streisand Effect.”
The phrase refers to Barbara Streisand’s 2003 attempt to use legal force to keep a picture of her California home from being published online. Her lawsuit drew more attention to the story, and caused the picture to be viewed by many more people than would have otherwise seen it. And Ms. Streisand did not even have to reckon with Twitter at the time, he noted.
“If it truly were ‘ridiculous’ and completely unfounded, it should be cleared up more quickly,” he said.
Mr. Reid said the only way for the mayor to move past the situation is to address it directly.
“People need to hear from the mayor,” he said. “It is not obvious how the mayor believes, or how his brother believes, that he can genuinely function as the chief elected official of the city when he has to run from the media outside of a Tim Hortons. ... Until the mayor comes forward and says, ‘This is untrue, it’s not me, it could never be me,’ then this is all going to be ridiculously unsatisfactory.”
With a report from Susan Krashinsky