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pressing the flesh

Doug Ford welcomes guests to “Ford Fest” an open barbeque at the mayor's mother's house in Etobicoke, Sept. 7, 2012.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Thousands of people gathered for a barbecue at Mayor Rob Ford's mother's Etobicoke home Friday night.

Police stopped traffic on nearby Royal York Road to accommodate party-goers as they milled about nearby.

This year, the Fords hired a private security firm for the bash. The mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said he was concerned someone could try to disrupt the popular event.

The Ford family has been holding the annual party since the 1990s.

On Friday evening, people drifted up and down the street, some congregating at nearby homes. The backyard was packed, as people lined up for burgers or watched a band play classic rock cover songs. Some sported Team Ford Mayor T-shirts, remnants from the 2010 election.

"It's going fantastic, going absolutely great," the mayor said of the barbecue, as he greeted people in the line.

Mr. Ford, looking energized despite a day in court this week in a conflict-of-interest case, spoke to the crowd, listing his accomplishments as mayor. He said he had just come from coaching football and "I know some people think that's a terrible thing."

He said he didn't need a chauffeur, brushing off calls to get a driver after being sighted reading behind the wheel.

He told supporters at the party earlier that "we're already working on the next campaign."

Sandra Pavan, a volunteer from the North Etobicoke Tenants Association, which helped organize the event, said she thinks "well over 5,000 people" had attended the event by 9 p.m.

"And people will still be coming at midnight," she said.

"Nobody else would allow that many people to go into their yard," Ms. Pavan said. "They're honest, good, decent people."

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wandered through the crowd, stopping often to chat with supporters – including some who told him not be disappointed with the results of this week's by-elections in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan.

"This speaks to the generosity of the Ford family, to invite so many people to their house for a burger, a dog," he said, gesturing to the crowd standing in front of the house.

Tony Petrovich, a property manager from Parkdale, said he came out because he supports the mayor and wanted to see what the event was about.

"I like what he stands for," he said, as he walked through the packed backyard.

Mr. Petrovich said he believes the mayor has been unfairly maligned, but added, "I think he's going to endure. Come next election, I think he'll prevail."

Silvie Belanger said she's happy with the mayor's record, and came to the party hoping to hear him address the crowd.

"He's got things done," she said. "He said he'd [privatize] garbage collection, and he did."

With a report from Marcus Gee