Friday's court decision has given Rob Ford that rarest of things, a second chance. Here is a heaven-sent opportunity to turn his stumbling mayoralty around – to put the distracting antics and errors behind him, regain control of a divided city council and show true leadership. Here is a chance, in short, to become what he has never been: a serious mayor for a city with serious challenges.
Will he seize it? The first signals were not promising. Most people who have gone through a near-death experience try to figure out how they might avoid nearing death again. Some even consider changing the way they live their lives. Not Mr. Ford.
At a news conference after the conflict-of-interest ruling, reporters asked what he had learned from the experience. "What I've learned is that there is so much support from the people out there," he said, straight-faced. Apparently even critics have come around. "A lot of them said, 'You know what? I didn't support you last time, but you've proved me wrong.'"
Asked how he would deal with the challenges ahead, he replied: "Just like I have. We are running the city better than any administration ever has." It turns out that when he said he was "humbled" by the experience, he didn't mean he was chastened or forced to rethink his conduct. What he meant was that he was humbled to discover how extraordinarily popular he is.
None of this should come as much of a surprise. Mr. Ford has never been one for rumination or doubts. Hopes that he would evolve in office beyond the angry, slogan-spouting suburban councillor that he once was have proved illusory. He is what he is.
Still, without changing his nature, there are things he can do to make himself a more successful mayor. One is to pay attention to the rules. Mr. Ford got in trouble with the law in the first place because he flouted city council rules by using his status as a councillor to raise money for his football charity. The appeal court's ruling does not change that. It simply says that city council overstepped itself by ordering him to pay the donors back.
It is a good thing that, in the end, the mayor wasn't removed from office over what was a relatively minor infraction. But none of it would have happened if he had paid even the slightest attention to the simple regulations designed to keep city politics above board. To avoid further entanglements, Mr. Ford must learn that the rules apply to him as much as anyone else.
Another thing he can learn is simply to show up. No one begrudges him his love of football or his devotion to his youthful team, but Mr. Ford has been a distracted, half-there mayor who often seems bored by the ordinary demands of the job.
Yet another is to work with others. He could stop demonizing his opponents and reach across the council floor to build coalitions and get things done.
There are other, smaller things, too. He could hire a driver instead of reading behind the wheel or quarreling with streetcar drivers. He could be a little more open with the media, instead of shutting off access to some and shrouding his movements in secrecy.
If he manages to shut down the reality-TV sideshow and take a real interest in the job of governing, he still has a chance to rescue his mayoralty from the shambles it has become. He has made good progress on righting the city's finances, winning concessions from the city's old-time unions and contracting out services such as garbage collection. He told reporters on Friday that there is more to come, including a new economic strategy for the city, a new emphasis on customer service and even a broad transportation strategy.
As fellow conservative Denzil Minnan-Wong put it, the legal and other distractions have "hurt his agenda, the agenda of running an efficient city.… I think he has an opportunity here to reflect on what took place and move forward and try to refocus his efforts."
Reflection is probably too much to ask of this mayor. But refocusing should be well within his abilities. He has two years left till the end of his term. If he can learn just a few things from his recent dance with doom, he could still make a success of it.