It has been the worst of weeks for Mayor Rob Ford. A video viewed by Globe and Mail reporters shows him smoking what is said to be crack cocaine – again. An audio recording obtained by The Toronto Sun has him delivering a drunken rant – again. Documents obtained by The Globe suggest he made threatening remarks about a former City Hall security guard.
It is an operatic story of rise and fall. Mr. Ford came from obscurity as a cranky suburban councillor to lead the country’s biggest city. Now, he is on the brink of losing it all.
Should we feel some compassion as he heads off, tail between his legs, into self-imposed exile? He certainly seems to think so. His parting message plays artfully on the city’s sympathies.
He says it is “not easy to be vulnerable”; that he faces “one of the most difficult times in my life”; that he is “100-per-cent committed” to getting better. He insists that “I love the people of Toronto” and asks them to keep him in their prayers.
Don’t fall for it. While it’s only human to feel for a person in crisis, it is important to look at Rob Ford with clear eyes and understand who he is and why he acts the way he does. Not all of it can be explained by addiction, if that is indeed what he suffers from. The bullying and the lying, the sexism and the bigotry, are too persistent. His behaviour is a reflection of his character.
It is true that people with alcohol or drug problems often act erratically. It is true they often lie and deny. Mr. Ford misled the city when, for all those months last year, he denied using crack.
But it is letting the mayor off the hook to ascribe all of his actions to a sickness that is beyond his control. He is an adult. He is responsible for how he acts. Many people drink to excess. Not all of them smoke crack. Not all of them erupt in crude racist and sexist remarks.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that when he says those awful things, it isn’t the booze and the drugs talking. It is the real Rob Ford talking.
This is the Rob Ford who is said to have called Justin Trudeau a “fag” in the first video, seen by the Toronto Star a year ago, that purportedly shows him smoking crack cocaine.
This is the Rob Ford who in that same video talks about the “f--king minorities” on the high-school football team he coached. Many were black.
This is the Rob Ford who is reported to have used an ethnic slur to describe a taxi driver when he went on a drinking spree on the night of St. Patrick’s Day in 2012. Security reports from that night (never proved in court) said the mayor was walking around City Hall in the small hours of the morning, cursing, belligerent and apparently drunk.
This is the Rob Ford who pointedly stayed away from the Pride parade, who refused to attend other Pride events, and who went into a rage because officials raised the rainbow flag over City Hall in solidarity with gay people in Russia. The stoned remarks and the sober actions are of a piece.
This is the Rob Ford who was accused of groping one woman (Sarah Thomson) at a public event and who is overheard in the audio recording that came out in The Toronto Sun this week making a sexual remark about another (Karen Stintz) during his barroom rant. Drink alone cannot explain that, let alone excuse it.
This is the Rob Ford who, while drunk at a hockey game in 2006 when he was still a city councillor, shouted at a couple sitting near him: “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?”
What kind of person says such a thing, even when drunk?
This is the Rob Ford who insinuated that a reporter who was investigating a story near the mayor’s house was a pedophile. He was stone-cold sober when he suggested that the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale was taking pictures of his children over a fence. In fact, Mr. Dale was simply looking into Mr. Ford’s plan to buy some public land next to the house. The mayor retracted the slur only when faced with a lawsuit.
That incident points to a pattern in Mr. Ford’s behaviour. Say or do something awful. When confronted, deny it ever happened and claim you are the victim of a plot by hostile journalists or political enemies. When you can’t deny it any more, admit it, say you are sorry and ask forgiveness.
It is the way of a classic schoolyard bully: bluster (No, I didn’t take your stupid ball. Yeah, I took it, but so what?), then, when the other kids confront you, retreat and plead for mercy (Have it back. I didn’t know it was yours. It was only a joke. Don’t hurt me.)
Bluster, then plead. We have seen it so many times from Mr. Ford. First: lies, lies, lies. Then: sorry, sorry, sorry.
It would be one thing if he took his leave from office simply because he came to the realization that he needed help. But no – he took it only after he was cornered, with new revelations that he could not plausibly deny bursting into the headlines.
In his cloying goodbye letter, with all its practised therapy-speak, he never once apologized for what he had said or done. He didn’t try to explain it. He didn’t even acknowledge it.
So wish Mr. Ford good luck if he goes to rehab. Pray for him, too, if that is your custom. But don’t swallow his plea for sympathy. He is the architect of his own misfortune.