Despite the embarrassing performance that Rob Ford put on in court this week, many voters are willing to overlook all the static about football fund raising and conflicts of interest and forgive the mayor his trespasses. To them, the whole affair is a meaningless sideshow. Sad to say, it is not. The flaws that got Mr. Ford into trouble and made him flub his day in court are the same flaws that are tripping up his mayoralty.
The first is simple inattention. Under questioning from lawyer Clayton Ruby this week, he admitted he had not read the very law that put him in the witness box. An incredulous Mr. Ruby insisted that he must have understood the meaning of conflict of interest, given that he had often declared such conflicts at city council in the past.
But Mr. Ford is not a man who troubles himself with the details. If he did not understand, perhaps he simply could not be bothered. He is so sure of himself, so convinced of the rightness of his world view, that he sees no need to back up his words with facts.
As a city councillor, Mr. Ford was always a disengaged lone wolf, drifting in and out of City Hall, popping up to give one of his trademark rants and then heading off to pursue his real interests: coaching football and answering constituent calls.
It has been the same story since he became mayor on Dec. 1, 2010. He has always been good at putting out a simple, consistent message – the talent that got him elected in the first place. That message – leaner government, better customer service, more accountable, less privileged politicians – still resonates with many Torontonians.
As a political persona, too, Mr. Ford, still appeals to many voters. In The Toronto Star, not usually a sympathetic journal, Jack Lakey writes: "He likes Kentucky Fried Chicken and stops for takeout food on his way home from work, just like the rest of us. He doesn't look like a mayor, particularly the kind of mayor that snotty Toronto would elect. He looks like Everyman, the guy who stocks meat shelves at No Frills or fixes your furnace."
It is execution that's the issue. The furnace guy has to learn how the furnace works before he fixes it. To get things done, you need to have at least a basic understanding of the problem you face. Mr. Ford never took the time to read the manual.
Just look at what happened in the transit debate last winter. The city, and much of city council, shared his desire to think big and build out the subway network, but he failed to get his plan passed because he couldn't produce even the shadow of a credible blueprint. He never did his homework. As a direct result of his failure to engage the issues in earnest and argue his case with evidence instead of slogans, the mayor has all but lost control of city council.
This fall, the mayor will be tested again. Much is at stake as he enters the second half of his term (assuming it isn't cut short by a judicial finding). The transit debate begins anew. The future of the city's troubled public housing portfolio is in the balance as a report on selling individual houses comes forward. The struggle to fix the city's finances continues.
As exasperated as many Torontonians may be with the mayor and his antics, the city needs him to succeed. It would be a shame to see him fritter away his final two years in distractions such as reading at the wheel. It is the mayor himself that has become the sideshow – the big man under the big top.