Grano, a swishy Italian restaurant near Yonge and Davisville, is not what you would call familiar territory for a guy like Doug Ford. In fact, when he was invited to speak there on Wednesday evening, Mr. Ford apparently thought he was being summoned to the Granite Club.
But the Etobicoke councillor showed no sign of being intimidated by the venue or the crowd, which included doctors, lawyers, Bay Street executives, journalists and even a former lieutenant governor: philanthropist Hal Jackman. They had gathered for what was billed as an informal dinner and Q&A with Mr. Ford, the third in a series "aimed at exposing an interesting cross section of thinkers in the city to the different mayoralty campaigns." (Karen Stintz and Olivia Chow have already done Grano. John Tory is booked for August.)
The irrepressible Mr. Ford did not disappoint. He was in vintage Ford form, full of bluster as he fielded questions on everything from subways, subways, subways to his brother's drug use. He denounced Ms. Chow as "a tax-and-spend left-wing socialist" who is "in bed with unions." He said Mr. Tory is so indecisive that "he can't make up his mind on what weather it is out."
He vowed his brother was poised for a big comeback in the Oct. 27 election. "Make no mistake, folks, you'll see in four months who Rob Ford is" and "when Rob Ford is on his game he is unstoppable."
He took after the press for stories like those in this paper that exposed how the Fords lobbied senior city staff to help out firms that did business with the Ford family printing business. "You have been after our family, our business and myself personally from the day I got elected," he said. "For what reason? You have your own political agenda."
He called his brother a friend of the downtrodden who was doing his best for "the ethnic community." No one, he said, "has serviced the poor people anywhere in this country more than Rob Ford."
Master of ceremonies Rudyard Griffiths kicked off the questioning by asking how the mayor was doing. "He looks great. He looks absolutely fabulous," said Mr. Ford. He said his brother was down to a 44 waist from a 52 after weeks in a cottage-country rehab facility and "there's a lot he has learned in there, folks."
Therapy, he said, "answers a lot of questions that you have about yourself and how you've hurt other people" and the mayor has "come to realize it's time to move forward in a different direction." But this, he allowed, will be a lifelong challenge.
He made no attempt to defend or deny the homophobic, sexist and racist comments that the mayor is reported to have made during his various incidents of drug or alcohol use. "There are a lot of things that people say under the influence and I feel are totally disgusting – and Rob told me they're totally disgusting," he said.
The questions were mostly polite, if sometimes pointed. One investment manager asked why the mayor didn't admit earlier that he lied about his behaviour. Mr. Ford said his brother would have more to say on that and other issues when he returns to work on Monday. "He wasn't honest with the people about his personal life," Mr. Ford acknowledges.
If the mayor remains popular with a segment of the population despite all of that, it should be no mystery, said Mr. Ford. The event came in a week when a new poll showed the mayor in second place in the election contest, ahead of Mr. Tory and behind Ms. Chow.
"Everyone can't figure out: why is this guy, this guy who has been caught on video on drugs or on alcohol and going wild, how can he still get 25-26 [per cent] – whatever the pollsters are saying," said Mr. Ford. He said the answer is that the mayor is the kind of guy who helps Mrs. Jones get the garbage on her street picked up or the pot hole filled.
"The mayor is the only person that gives out his home phone number, which is, if you have your phone ready, it's 416-233-6934." No one in this particular audience seemed in a rush to take down those digits.