When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford stepped out of the elevator and into a throng of reporters as he returned to City Hall this week, a slight man in a white button-down shirt trailed just a few steps back. For the rest of the week, the same silver-haired figure appeared at the mayor’s side at each of his public events, listening intently with arms crossed during interviews, and pacing around the mayor’s office between appearances.
That man is 53-year-old Jeff Silverstein, the newly hired communications director on the re-election campaign for Toronto’s embattled mayor. Mr. Silverstein, a former journalist who now specializes in PR and reputation management, has staked his name on “honest, open and transparent” communication, especially in times of crisis – experience he will tap into for the campaign.
“I was interested in this opportunity because I saw that he was coming back from rehab and he was going to have some communication issues,” Mr. Silverstein said when approached by The Globe on Friday. “I wanted to work with him.”
Mr. Silverstein, who started the job just one week ago, enters the mayor’s office at a pivotal moment. Over the past year, Mr. Ford has made international headlines for a long list of troubles involving drug and alcohol abuse and inappropriate behaviour – culminating in a two-month leave of absence in April to attend rehab. He now has just four months to persuade Toronto voters to put their faith in him again for the October municipal election.
Mr. Silverstein will play a key role in helping Mr. Ford do that, despite the fact he has never worked on a campaign before.
“I, like a lot of people that work in this field, have a lot of experience in the media,” he said, describing his role as “managing” those relationships.
Mr. Silverstein spent more than a decade in broadcasting, including as a producer for CTV’s W5. He has also worked as a freelance writer, including for The Globe and Mail. In a 2004 travel story for The Globe, he wrote that he was a nationally ranked tennis player when he was younger, and that he has two kids. He was also a researcher on Robin Eggar’s 2005 biography of Shania Twain.
For the past few years, he has worked for a firm that specializes in risk assessment for financial companies. He’s also launched his own PR firm focused on the mining industry.
Mr. Silverstein declined to discuss specifics about the campaign, though he has spoken in the past about his views on communication. In April, he told Mining Weekly that he advises his clients on the importance of honesty and transparency.
“There are three things that are very important for a mining company to do,” he said. “One is to tell the truth! The other is to engage with their critics.”
With Mr. Ford as his client, however, Mr. Silverstein has been less willing to engage.
Journalists from at least four media outlets who had scheduled interviews with Mr. Ford this week found cancellation e-mails sent to them by Mr. Silverstein. The e-mails told reporters the mayor had “said all there is to say to a national audience and to a local audience.”
One of Mr. Silverstein’s former journalism colleagues said he was surprised to hear about the new job.
“I always figured his own politics were kind of left-of-centre,” said former W5 reporter Alan Fryer, who described Mr. Silverstein as “an extremely diligent and thorough investigator.”
Rob Ford, Mr. Fryer said, “is not the kind of candidate that I would’ve figured he would’ve hooked up with.”
Mr. Silverstein isn’t the only new face in the mayor’s office this week. The mayor’s spokesman confirmed Friday that the mayor is also working with a sobriety coach – a man the CBC identified as Bob Marier. The white-haired coach, who has been at the mayor’s side all week, would only identify himself to a Globe reporter Friday as “Bob,” and described himself as a “volunteer.”