An enthusiastic Mayor Rob Ford toured the Austin City Limits music festival on Friday, deflecting questions about his troubles back home and saying he wanted to copy the festival’s success in Toronto.
“Look what it does for the economy, look what it does for tourism, look what it does for jobs. This is a win, win, win right around. Everyone is super-nice. Everyone’s well-behaved. I didn’t see one incident. This is truly incredible, amazing,” he told reporters after his hour-long tour of the popular event, which features acts from The Cure to Kings of Leon to Lionel Richie.
“The only thing I need now is a cold sprinkler to run through somewhere,” he added, wiping sweat from his face with a handkerchief in muggy temperatures of more than 30 C.
Austin Council Member Mike Martinez told the mayor that, apart from the business the festival brings in for hotels, restaurants, taxis and bars, ACL has helped Austin make $6-million (U.S.) in improvements to city parks.
“I know that the people in Toronto would embrace this,” Mr. Ford said. “It doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime and it creates millions of dollars of revenue for the city. How can you go wrong?”
His brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said he would like Toronto to start a similar festival, perhaps on the Toronto Islands or at Downsview Park. Toronto already has several music festivals, including the North by Northeast (NXNE) event modelled on Austin’s South by Southwest.
The Fords are part of a delegation of city councillors and music-industry representatives that came to Austin to study how it has branded itself as a mecca for live music. The mayor and his brother paid their own expenses.
“I’ll be up front. This trip cost me personally five thousand bucks, Rob probably more,” Councillor Ford said. “What other guys can promote Toronto like we do – and the rest of the group – on our own dime? I do this day in and day out.”
The mayor has been dogged on the trip by questions about a police investigation of his associates, but Councillors Josh Colle and Gary Crawford said the news from home had not detracted from the trip.
“Obviously, we can’t follow what’s happening back home in the Toronto media, but here – honestly, I’m not just saying this – it’s been entirely positive,” Mr. Colle said. “People are thrilled that the mayor of Toronto’s here, that Toronto’s here.”
The two councillors said they were surprised to hear about a report that a Toronto police plane has been tailing Mr. Ford’s friends.
“I’m shocked,” said Mr. Crawford. “Why and how and all of that? That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”
As the mayor walked the festival grounds, wearing a black suit that set him apart from the crowd, festival goers watched with interest, but most seemed not to know who he was.
“Rob Ford. Wasn’t he involved in some kind of scandal or something?” said Chris Martin, 44, searching his memory.
Mr. Ford came to Austin with his wife, Renata, and their two children. On Friday night, he watched a high-school football game between the McCallum Knights and Navasota Rattlers, sitting in the stands with McCallum supporters on metal benches along with other members of the Toronto delegation.
"Music and football have a lot in common but a lot of people, they don't see that," he said. "I love it down here. This is died and gone to heaven." He said that "obviously" he has not been coaching lately, noting he had been "fired" from his old post at an Etobicoke high school.
He is to stay for the weekend and attend a Dallas Cowboys-Denver Broncos football game in Dallas on Sunday.