Rob Ford is such a universally recognized figure, so present in the life of the city, that hearing about his sudden health crisis was almost like getting news about an illness in the family. The first reaction was shock. How could this happen? He seemed so robust, so raring to go, on the campaign trail. Now this.
The second was concern. Mr. Ford has a tumour in his abdomen. What does it mean? How ill is he? What is his diagnosis and prognosis? The medical authorities are guarded on that count. They just don't know yet. Neither does he. Neither do his wife and his young children. It must be an agony for all of them.
The Mayor's father, Doug Ford Sr., died of colon cancer in 2006. He was a towering figure for his sons and that tragedy still casts its shadow on them.
Doug Ford, usually so full of bluster and spirit, looked shaken as he addressed reporters on a rainy Wednesday evening. He asked for a little space to absorb the news and what it means before the family says anything about whether the Mayor can continue campaigning.
They should get that space. Politics and all its sound and fury suddenly seem insignificant when something like this happens. It would be best to suspend all campaigning, by informal agreement, until we know more about Mr. Ford's health. He deserves that consideration at least.
The mayor, to state the obvious, is a controversial and polarizing figure. But he is still the mayor, despite everything. More to the point, he is a man. He has been through a series of trials since becoming mayor – even if some of them were self-imposed – from drug scandal to rehab. The only decent thing to do is pull for him as he goes through this latest one.
His political rival Olivia Chow hit the right note when she told a television interviewer that she hopes Mr. Ford can recover and "come back strong" in the election campaign. The mayor, she said, is strong-minded and strong-willed. What is more, she said, "he has a lot of people who believe in him and love him."
John Tory, too, said he hoped to see the mayor back at the debating table soon, "talking about the city we all love."
Whether that can happen, who can say? Only about six weeks remain till the Oct. 27 election. Mr. Ford, we are told, will have to undergo some tests to determine what kind of tumour he has. Even if it proves benign, will he be well enough to resume the exhausting round of canvassing, debating and speaking that is the lot of a candidate for mayor? To push the speculation a little further, if he does come back, what effect will this crisis have on his prospects for re-election? Some even wondered whether Doug Ford would take over from his brother as candidate for mayor.
But that is for another day. For now, all that matters is Mr. Ford's health. Politics can stir great passions and even hatreds. All of that falls away when a life is involved. Disunited as it sometimes seems, the whole city should join in wishing for his speedy recovery.