Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz blocks out time for his private interests – he’s starting a new family in his 60s with a second wife half his age – and has faced his own conflict-of-interest allegations of late and has moved on. He is currently serving his third term.
Meanwhile, the meeting Mr. Ford dodged (which he was supposed to be chairing) is one of the only opportunities citizens have to ask the mayor questions directly. His Worship skipped out before an emotional debate about the Pride parade and the city’s anti-discrimination funding (an important plank in Toronto’s reputation for tolerance); before discussions about the future of Casa Loma; and without hearing sundry other items such as whether the city’s decision to outsource trash collection was based on bogus numbers.
But Mr. Ford hasn’t apologized. “I work harder than any mayor ever has,” he has insisted. It’s hard to know if he’s right: The mayor refuses to make his schedule public, forcing the media to file Freedom of Information applications to find out what the big guy has been up to.
Daniel Dale, a reporter at the Toronto Star (the same fellow the mayor charged near his back yard) nevertheless managed to reveal that between March 11 and July 23, Mr. Ford’s itinerary suggested he averaged a leisurely three appointments a weekday, and those included meetings with his staff.
Admittedly, absenteeism is an occupational hazard for all councillors, who duck in and out of meetings all day long. Still, says a City Hall insider, “I think it would have been unlikely for any of the previous mayors not to attend a meeting of the executive committee that they chaired.”
Even councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, a fellow Etobicoke fiscal hawk who has known the Ford boys since they were teenagers, has been unimpressed by the mayor’s speedy dash to the gridiron. “I felt that, by leaving this meeting, he was obviously not interested in the issues.” She goes on: “He’s his own person. And he obviously does what he wants to do. It’s a matter of priorities. And he’s chosen his.”
Of course, Mr. Ford will shrug off such criticisms; city politics is a dogfight, and he’s a biter. But whether his laissez-faire approach to both civic law and his public duties should be shrugged off is another question.
Of all the complaints you can hear about Mr. Ford in a day of wandering around the city, the most consistent and serious is that he is not a sufficiently polished or public leader.
“We have a large cosmopolitan city, and look at our mayor,” a retired suburbanite in her 50s named Sharon declares abruptly. She’s come downtown to see her dentist. “Rob Ford shouldn’t be the face of this city. It’s almost like he trivializes it.”
Sharon is a liberal. But the consultant in the Glen-plaid suit isn’t. “The mayor has to be the public face of the city,” he tells me. “But he is not. Does he make me want to reach out to him? No. But he needs to.”
Long ago and far away in 1980, former mayor John Sewell incurred the derision of Toronto when he chose not to attend the funeral of slain police officer Michael Sweet; Mr. Sewell was concerned his recent anti-police criticisms might make him unwelcome. Is skipping an executive meeting to coach some kids any worse than skipping a funeral to save the feelings of a family? Of course not. No politician can be everywhere in the city.
“But there is an expectation that the mayor will,” the City Hall insider points out. “Because he represents everyone in the city.”
Do you want Rob Ford, the shrewd-but-stubborn red bull of Nathan Phillips Square, to represent Toronto in the onrushing high-stake negotiations to create a new world order of powerful cities? He might have a game that day.
Ford’s fumbles, play by play
FORD V. THE TRUTH