"Michael was born and raised in Ward 2, Etobicoke North, and has long established ties with the community," says Michael Ford's campaign website. What it does not say is that he happens to be the nephew of Rob Ford. But, then, he hardly needs to mention that.
This fact, and this fact alone, makes him the overwhelming favourite to win a seat on city council in Monday's by-election in Ward 2. The Ford name is still golden in the northwest Toronto suburb, where Rob and his brother, Doug, led the city's most famous political family.
"I think everyone will vote for him," says Augustine Ojie, 41, lifting his head out from under the hood of his car while taking a break from replacing the battery. Why? Well, because of Rob. After all, "they are the same blood."
That Michael is just 22 doesn't bother him. Nor does the fact that Michael's formal experience consists of a year and a half as a school board trustee.
Ask around in Ward 2 and you hear this sort of thing a lot. "I think he's awfully young, but if he's anything like his uncles, he'll do okay," says Lynn Herman, 58, outside a dollar store on Kipling Avenue, the wide north-south street that runs through the centre of Ward 2.
A minute later, Subhas Chandra, 64, comes along. Asked if he would vote for Michael, he says: "Sure. Definitely. Positively. He is a young, vibrant man who can stand for us. He's got the brains. He's got the brilliance. He's from that kind of family."
The continuing sheen of the Ford name may seem a bit mysterious. It shouldn't. Though his mayoralty was a train wreck that embroiled the city in scandal and made Rob Ford a global punchline, he was a wildly popular city councillor who won over voters by returning thousands of phone calls and turning up in person to handle complaints about things as minor as bungled garbage pickup.
Of the first half dozen people I talked to, three had met him. He helped one get her rent lowered. He called another back at 10 p.m. to deal with a noise complaint. Another had attended two of his Ford Fest community barbeques. Ask about the little matter of the drug scandal in these parts and you hear comments such as, "We all have our faults."
The sense of alienation and neglect that helped bring Rob Ford to power is still strong in Etobicoke North, a sprawling district of discount stores, small factories, airport warehouses, payday-loan outlets, high-rise apartment buildings full of new immigrants and post-war bungalows on winding roads – with some prosperous islands of comfortable houses and green golf courses mixed in. The yoga studios, bicycle-filled streets and gleaming condo towers of Toronto's thriving downtown seem a world away. Crime is a big issue, especially since the fatal shooting of a pregnant woman in May.
The Fords go way back in this part of town. The family patriarch, Doug Sr., built a successful labels business and became an MPP. His youngest son, Rob, represented Ward 2 for a decade before becoming mayor in 2010, then Doug held it for another four. Rob won it again after dropping out of the mayor's race in 2014 when he fell ill with cancer. After Rob died on March 22, council called a by-election . Michael stepped up .
Even if Michael doesn't play on the family connection in his literature, his campaign is straight from the Ford playbook. His lawn signs, far more numerous than his opponents', are in the familiar red, white and blue of his late uncle. His "Michael Ford for Councillor" card has a "Ford Nation" tag in the corner. His thin three-point program stresses customer service, keeping taxes low and community investment. As councillor, he vows, he will be "responsive in person and on the phone."
His staff say he has knocked on 8,000 doors and hopes to hit another thousand before voting day. People are already ringing him up to ask for help. At a televised debate last week, Michael sounded very much like a chip off the old block as he promised to fight Mayor John Tory's plan to bring in new "revenue tools" for better transit and other needs. Instead of raising taxes, he said, city hall should focus on finding "efficiencies."
Michael, to be fair, is a milder, more reasonable version of his ranty uncles. He sounded almost statesmanlike when he praised his fellow debaters.
When a 22-year-old feels confident enough to pat you on the head, you know you're in trouble. His rivals range from the out there (a cannabis campaigner; a former fringe candidate for mayor who calls himself "the black Rob Ford") to the credible (left-leaning Christopher Strain; youth advocate Chloe-Marie Brown; Jeff Canning, who stresses his experience as a business owner). But they are up against the best known name in Toronto politics. A mailbox labelled Ford could win an election up here.
Michael is a serious and conscientious young man. He might even make a decent councillor. But let's not pretend he is winning on his merits. The name is the thing.