At Rob Ford's funeral procession on Wednesday, his supporters carried little flags emblazoned with the words Best Mayor Ever. Their faith in their fallen hero is touching. Their grasp of the facts is questionable. Long before the crack scandal derailed him, Mr. Ford was a divisive, poorly informed, checked-out mayor whose record fell far short of the wild boasts that he made for himself.
Mr. Ford vaulted into the mayor's chair in 2010 after 10 years on city council. He was a lone wolf all those years, popping up every so often to rant about how much fellow councillors spent on snacks for their meetings or how cyclists deserved what they got for braving city streets. Optimists said he might change once he won the city's top job, learning to follow the rules of council, pay attention to details and work with others to get things done. That never happened.
On his first day in office, without bothering to consult city council, he said he was killing the city's biggest public transit project: Transit City. The result was a long and bitter battle over the shape of the city's future transit map that stalled badly needed progress on transit construction.
Mr. Ford wanted more subways – "subways, subways, subways" – but had no clue about how to cover the vast expense of building them. He hated light-rail vehicles – "these damned streetcars blocking up our city" – but didn't appear to understand that some of them would run on their own rights of way, away from traffic.
He had some early successes at city council: privatizing garbage collection on one side of the city; killing an unpopular car registration tax; persuading Queen's Park to make transit an essential service.
He managed to end some dubious budgeting practices, and took a tough line with city unions in contract negotiations. He ordered up a "core service review" and told city departments to tighten their belts.
But his claim to have saved taxpayers $1-billion was a simplistic exaggeration. So was his claim to have created a host of new jobs. He refused to attend the annual Pride parade, giving comfort to bigots.
He made it clear early on that he had little interest in the fine print of government. His was a world of slogans (stop the gravy train) and confident assertions (the private sector will pay for it) built on a foundation of hot air. He and his brother Doug tried to bulldoze any opposition.
Look at their crude attempt to undermine Waterfront Toronto and put monorails and Ferris wheels by the lakeshore. At some points in his mayoralty, Mr. Ford seemed to spend as much time in court as in his office, fighting various suits and complaints that he brought on himself. The rules were always for someone else. The man who demanded respect for taxpayers leaned on city officials to fix the road outside his family's business, and was reported to have sent city-paid office workers to do personal errands for him.
Reaching out to others on council, building a consensus, the give-and-take of democratic government – all of these remained foreign concepts to Mr. Ford, who claimed to channel the voice of the people. Those who criticized him weren't honourable opponents. They were enemies who needed to be crushed.
As for the whole crack affair, his loyalists like to say that we all have faults and failings. Yes, but not all of us smoke crack cocaine. Not all of us unleash volleys of vulgarities and slurs. Not all of us consort with criminal types while preaching to young people about the dangers of crime.
Mr. Ford misled the public about his substance abuse and pilloried anyone who suggested he had a problem. Contrary to what his backers say, this was not just an extracurricular pastime with no effect on how he did his job. His issues spilled into his work life well before the scandal broke. Sometimes, his own staff didn't know where he was.
If it seems in bad taste to repeat all this so soon after his death, remember what Doug Ford said on the day of the funeral. He promised to carry on his brother's crusade. Although his own intentions are still unclear, it is obvious that he hopes to make the movement he calls Ford Nation a continuing force in city politics. A Ford may be running for mayor again.
The Ford movement rides on the idea that Rob Ford was an effective mayor who saved the taxpayers a fortune, achieved all he set out to achieve, did everything he said he would do, always gave the straight goods and never lied to anyone – the Best Mayor Ever. Well, it just isn't true.
Mr. Ford was a remarkable figure in Canadian politics. Give him his due. He reminded others how important it is to spend public money carefully, every cent of it. He reminded them to listen to the everyday complaints of typical voters and bring the idea of customer service to government.
By taking care of the little things, he managed to forge an extraordinary bond with many ordinary people. That bond was on display this week as thousands came to view his casket at City Hall or walk in his funeral procession. It was only right to acknowledge that bond and mark the passing of a recent mayor at such a young age with the rituals of mourning and respect for his stricken family.
But in the haze of remembrance, let's not slide into revisionism. Rob Ford was a gifted politician who became a very poor mayor.