It was a vintage Rob Ford who appeared at a City Hall press conference on Tuesday to answer allegations that he was asked to leave a military ball last month because organizers were concerned he was impaired.
He called the story in the Toronto Star an outright lie. He called the Star “pathological liars.” He said he would go “head to head with the Toronto Star any time.” He even challenged the Star to take him to court over the allegations, an odd suggestion given that it is usually the subject of a damaging allegation who sues the paper, not the other way around.
Fierce defiance is always the way when Mr. Ford meets with some allegation of misbehaviour. Fierce defiance and a dash of conspiracy theory. After Tuesday’s allegations, the mayor’s brother, Doug, said the Star “is part of the same little group that’s going after Rob.”
In the mayor’s way of seeing things, he is constantly beset by a cabal of hostile journalists and left-wing politicians who can’t get over the fact that a suburban conservative like him took the mayor’s chair in 2010.
Like any populist, he believes he has an almost mystical bond with the common people. “Let’s just wait till the election is and then we’ll see what happens,” he said Tuesday.
He simply doesn’t accept that the city’s integrity commissioner or the Star or anyone in that “little group” has the right to scrutinize his actions. If they do, they must be out to get him. He is most comfortable with talk-radio guys who share his world view. His heroes, like Don Cherry and George Chuvalo, are rough-cut brawlers who sing his praises as he sings theirs.
One of the saddest parts of Tuesday’s circus was the sight of the 75-year-old Mr. Chuvalo looking out at the crowd of media at City Hall, where he had come to accept the key to the city from an adoring Mr. Ford. He said he hadn’t expected such a reception. The media, of course, had come to get Mr. Ford’s reaction to the Star story. Mr. Chuvalo was the undercard. A different mayor would have met separately with the media to answer their questions and left the boxer out of the whole messy business. Instead, he berated reporters for upstaging the Chuvalo event: “It’s about George Chuvalo today, guys. Have some respect.”
This, of course, is the second allegation of mayoral misbehaviour in the past few weeks. Former candidate for mayor Sarah Thomson said that an “out of it” Mr. Ford groped her at another public event. He denies it as fiercely as he denies the Star story and other stories in the past.
In 2006, Mr. Ford denied it when a couple who sat near to him at an Air Canada Centre hockey game said he verbally abused them. “I wasn’t even at the game, so someone’s trying to do a real hatchet job on me, let me tell you,” he told the Star at the time. He later reversed himself and admitted the incident, saying he had too much to drink.
He denied it when the Toronto Sun found out he had been busted in Florida in 1999 with a joint in his pocket, too. “I’m dead serious. When I say no, I mean never. No question, Now I’m getting offended. No means no,” he told the Sun. Then, when confronted with evidence, he admitted to it, saying the incident “completely, totally slipped my mind.”
Of course, that the mayor’s denials have proved false in the past doesn’t mean they are false this time. We have conflicting stories here and it’s impossible to be sure what really happened. Some guests at the military ball say Mr. Ford seemed fine and some city councillors insist they have never seen Mr. Ford take a drink or appear drunk in public. But the only named source in the Star piece, Scarborough Councillor Paul Ainslie, was sticking to his story, insisting the mayor had been asked to leave the ball.
In the absence of proof either way, we are left – as we seem to be all too often in the Rob Ford era – with the mayor of Toronto under siege.