Imagine what it must have been like to be an aide to a man like Rob Ford. The drinking. The absurd demands. The odd disappearances. The incoherent calls in the dead of night.
In the coming Mayor Rob Ford: Uncontrollable, Mark Towhey promises to tell the tale of How I Tried to Help the World's Most Notorious Mayor. "To work in the mayor of Toronto's office while Rob Ford careered toward self-destruction was humiliating, thankless, and – it later became clear – hazardous to one's well-being," says Maclean's magazine, summarizing the book, to be released later this month. "Days spent doing damage control blurred into frantic, late-night salvage missions, in which members of Ford's 14-person staff hauled themselves from bed to rescue their reeling boss from public embarrassment, or to listen to his drug-fuelled rants over their cellphones."
In one such middle-of-the-night phone call, according to a published excerpt, Mr. Towhey listens to an abusive and profane argument that Mr. Ford is having with his wife, Renata. A gun is mentioned. So are drugs. Terrible things are said. The couple's young children are in the house. Mr. Towhey considers calling 911, but doesn't. (After all, he told The Globe and Mail's Robyn Doolittle in a video interview this week, countless couples are arguing every night across the country.)
It sounds pretty bad all right, but by spilling the beans now, Mr. Towhey invites an obvious question: If things were so crazy – if the mayor of the city was out of control and he was in charge – why didn't he speak out?
It must have been clear to him and others who worked for Mr. Ford that the mayor was going off the rails. There was the famous St. Patrick's Day spree, the reported drinking behind the wheel, the unexplained absences and domestic disputes – all well before the crack scandal broke. From what Mr. Towhey has revealed of his book so far, it was even worse than we knew from previous reports.
If someone had blown the whistle, Toronto might have been spared the embarrassing and distracting events that made Mr. Ford an international laughing stock. Instead, Mr. Towhey and his people tried to manage the rogue mayor behind the scenes while covering up what was going on.
Mr. Towhey was a loyal Ford lieutenant, rising to the post of chief of staff before Mr. Ford fired him in the midst of the crack scandal. He defended the mayor consistently and pointedly, batting away reporters' questions about erratic behaviour that seemed to point to a drug or alcohol problem.
When one-time mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson complained that Mr. Ford had groped her and made suggestive remarks at a function, it was Mr. Towhey who came out to back him. When a story broke about Mr. Ford appearing out of it at a military ball, it was again Mr. Towhey who stood in his boss's corner.
They were even buying his booze for him. "Did the staff enable his drinking? Certainly, they helped," Mr. Towhey tells Maclean's. "But what they were really enabling was him not creating a spectacle of himself while doing something that's perfectly legal – that, and us being able to monitor how much he might drink and when."
All this was going on under Mr. Towhey's nose for months, and now he decides to talk? It is a little late.
Those who work for elected politicians are expected to be discreet and devoted, but they are not a praetorian guard. Their ultimate loyalty must be to the public, not their political masters. Everything we know now about what was going on with Mr. Ford points to a man with deep personal problems who was unfit to be mayor. Someone on his staff should have stood up and said that.
That they didn't is not just an indictment of those involved, many of whom, unlike Mr. Towhey, were young and out of their depth. It an indictment of our government culture – a culture that is often secretive, closed and hostile to an inquiring news media. If a man like Mr. Ford had landed in the mayor's office of New York or Chicago and started behaving like he did, it would never have stayed under wraps. Here, they worked overtime to keep the curtain drawn. Behind that curtain, the mayor of the biggest city in the country was falling to pieces. And no one said a thing.