Rob Ford has been through some hard times of late, but on a humid summer evening in Scarborough, with his hardcore supporters all around, man, he is a rock star. The denizens of Ford Nation came in their thousands to see him at Ford Fest, East – people young and old, of every colour and background, all itching to show their support and simply be in the presence of the big man.
The line to get into the burger tent snaked through the park and into the street. For a good couple of hours, people lined up outside a picnic tent simply to have their picture taken with the embattled mayor – the victim, as most of them see it, of a dastardly plot to stop him from doing good. Mr. Ford stood sweating in his standard blue suit, grinning like mad every time the shutter sounded and looking as if he was having the time of his life.
Taking the stage as the sun went down, he led the crowd in a boisterous chant of "subways, subways, subways," playing on the frustration in this part of town that it is not yet reached by mass transit.
Think what you like about Mr. Ford, it is hard to find another Toronto politician who could pull such a crowd or command such loyalty. Can you imagine Miller Fest? Even Mel Lastman, for all his common touch and experience of victory at the polls, could not generate this kind of fuss.
Mr. Ford even has a rock ballad in his honour. Jenny James had the crowd going with her YouTube hit about Rob Ford the "taxpayer's Lord," which praises him as the "excess cost eliminator," "cost cowboy" and "rollback viceroy."
He has "a big heart that always cares, a man who's fair and keeps things square," she sings.
His fans certainly agree. "He's my idol," says Leonard Williamson, 52, a freight handler. "He's true and genuine, you know."
His friend Dwight Brown, 40, a production supervisor, says that Mr. Ford "is the one fighting for Toronto residents and we are putting all our backing behind him."
As for that video business, Mr. Williamson says, "I don't believe it, I don't believe it."
Whether all this will translate into victory at the polls next year, who knows. Rivals are lining up to take the mayor on in October, 2014. Who knows what turn the video saga may take or what new weirdness may emerge. With Rob Ford, you can just never tell. Who knows, either, whether the centrist voters who came to his side in 2010 will show up again or whether he will be left with only the true loyalists like those who came out to this rocking Ford Fest.
But tonight at least, Mr. Ford and his staff are clearly charged up. Nearly two months have passed since the video allegation, the controversy seems to be dying down, and the Ford camp is in full campaign mode (if they were ever out of it). They seem genuinely heartened and even amazed at the big turnout.
"Thank you, thank you and more thank you," the mayor told the crowd. "That's all I can say, Scarborough. 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. Thanks for inviting me to Scarborough; call me any time. As you know, I personally return every phone call."
Far from city hall and those downtown "social elites," there is no sign of discouragement. As Jenny James sings it, "blatant attacks won't make him collapse, cause Mayor Ford will bounce right back. Mayor Ford, the world will remember."
Whatever happens next year, that is for sure.