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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford goes to shake the hand of a supporter at the 13th Annual Ford Fest being held at Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough on July 5, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford goes to shake the hand of a supporter at the 13th Annual Ford Fest being held at Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough on July 5, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Torontonians celebrate all things Rob Ford at massive barbecue Add to ...

Thousands of Torontonians crowded into a suburban park Friday evening for a massive barbecue hosted by and in celebration of Mayor Rob Ford.

While the city's chief magistrate may be an embattled leader at city hall, plagued by a drug scandal and an endless string of gaffes, at Thomson Memorial Park, he was treated like royalty.

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Mr. Ford held court under a blue-and-gold canopy, standing for more than two hours as a stream of well-wishers filed past to shake his hand and pose for photos.

He was even serenaded with an anthem in his honour -- "The World Will Remember" -- penned by local jazz pop singer Jenny James.

This part of the city is Ford country -- a blue collar, multicultural suburb, where recent immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean live side-by-side with pensioners who have owned their post-war bungalows since they were built.

And the breadth and depth of Mr. Ford's support Friday was as diverse as the neighbourhood itself. Everyone from senior citizens to parents with young children in tow to local teenagers showed up to cheer on the Mayor, line up across the park for burgers and cold drinks, enjoy amusement park rides, and dance to a live band.

And they whooped uproariously when Mr. Ford stepped up to the microphone.

"I love you, Scarborough, you were absolutely fantastic to me two and a half years ago. You elected me to keep taxes low and stop the gravy train and that is exactly what we have done, folks," he said to applause, before repeating his vow to scrap city council's plan to build light rail transit in the area in favour of a subway extension.

"There's one thing I promise and I'm going to get, are those subways. Mark my words. The subways are coming," he shouted. "I have to be politically correct. I can tell you where we want to send those LRTs, but like I said, I've got to behave. So, LRTs can go somewhere, but subways are coming to Scarborough. Guaranteed."

He also pledged to promote Scarborough Councillor Norm Kelly to deputy mayor, should his current second-in-command, Doug Holyday, win election to the provincial legislature next month.

As he left the stage, mobbed by supporters, the crowd chanted "Subways! Subways! Subways!"

The annual barbecue is a Ford family tradition, which typically takes place in early September at the home of the Mayor's mother, Diane Ford, in Etobicoke.

This year, Mr. Ford decided to expand it to the second site in Scarborough, pumping up his base and shoring up support in the long buildup to his 2014 re-election bid.

The hot, humid summer night took on an extra note of triumph for Mr. Ford, who has faced a tough year at city hall with much of his agenda derailed by council and the exodus of several senior staff after allegations that Mr. Ford was videoed smoking crack cocaine emerged. Mr. Ford has denied that he smokes crack-cocaine or that any such video exists. And to the denizens of Scarborough who turned up Friday, the Mayor's travails simply don't matter.

Saranya Naraya, who brought her children to meet the Mayor, said she doesn't believe the allegations. And she agrees with his penny-pinching agenda.

"He's doing a good job even though he had some controversies," said Ms. Naraya, a 50-year-old administrative assistant. "I'm a working woman, and he's always concerned about the taxpayers' money. And we need the subways."

"He's a good man," enthused Frederick Wahid, 49, as Mr. Ford walked through the crowd, shaking hands.

Mr. Wahid, proprietor of a painting company, praised Mr. Ford's money-managing abilities.

"He's a good mayor, he likes to help people. He doesn't steal the government's money," Mr. Wahid said. "Why is everybody after this guy? They know the guy's a good guy. He's for the taxpayer."

The Ford love-in reached its peak with Ms. James' song.

"All the crazy accusations won't break apart Ford Nation," she proclaimed as the Mayor sang along a few feet away and the crowd joined in for the chorus -- calling Mr. Ford the "cost cowboy and rollback viceroy."

Ms. James, 27, said she and her collaborators wrote the song two weeks ago when they were hired to play the shindig.

"It actually started out as a joke, to write a song about him," she said, but over the course of a week, they hammered one out.

"I just like to entertain people," she said. "I'm not really into the politics."

Mr. Ford will hold the next installment of his barbecue series at his mother's home in September.

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

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