It is hard to resist a plea for a second chance, and the plea that Mayor Rob Ford made at City Hall on Monday was an exceptionally skillful one.
He said he had been in denial for far too long about his drug and alcohol problem. He said rehab forced him to confront his "personal demons." He said he learned that addiction is a chronic medical condition that will require treatment for the rest of his life. He said: "I will never be able to change the mistakes I have made in the past." He said he was "taking control of my life." He said he takes "full responsibility" for his actions. He thanked those close to him for "giving me another chance."
But, he added, "I am not asking you for forgiveness." Oh, no, not him. "I accept full responsibility for what I have done. Thankfully – thankfully – we live in a civilized society. A society that realizes that people do make mistakes and that some people need help, and those who seek out that help can be given another chance."
The intended message is that it would be uncharitable, unkind, even uncivilized not to extend that chance to him. But would it? Mr. Ford has already had more chances than a cat has lives. Way back in November, when he admitted (after months of denial) to smoking crack cocaine, he stood to make a remarkably similar plea.
He said, "I know what I did was wrong." He said that "these mistakes will never, ever, ever happen again." He said, "I sincerely, sincerely, sincerely apologize." We all know what happened then – a long series of incidents that ended this spring with reports of another video appearing to show him using drugs.
Perhaps things really are different now. Perhaps, after what he called hundreds of hours of intensive therapy, he is truly determined to change. For his sake and the sake of his family, let's hope so.
But even if that were true, Mr. Ford hasn't come close to wiping his slate clean. He hasn't explained how and why he became caught up with a criminal element (though he claims he has ended "those associations"). He hasn't apologized for his racist, sexist and homophobic comments (though he said he was sorry for a vulgar comment about Councillor Karen Stintz and sorry to everyone who was hurt by his words). He hasn't apologized for a crude remark he made about Police Chief Bill Blair. He did not say he would talk to the police who are investigating his activities.
Scores of other questions about his behaviour and conduct are outstanding. Yet he took no questions from the media after his statement and limited access to the event. To deserve even the whisper of a chance at redemption, he would have to make a clean breast of it, answer all the remaining questions in detail, apologize to all the people and groups he has slurred and co-operate fully with police.
Monday's return would have been the time to announce that he was doing all of that. It should have been the time to stand up and field every question that reporters could throw at him.
Instead, he ended his comeback statement with a boilerplate list of his accomplishments. He said he had promised to stop the "gravy train" and had done just that. He said he had saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. He boasted about contracting out garbage collection and striking a new deal with city unions. He said he wanted to serve the people of Toronto for many years to come.
The new Rob Ford was sounding very much like the old one. It isn't unkind or uncivilized to reject his plea for another chance. Just realistic.