With the news that the alleged Rob Ford video is "gone," voters in Toronto who don't support the mayor have to come to terms with the fact that Mr. Ford may have weathered this storm and could conceivably run for re-election in 2014. Rather than bemoan this turn of events, Mr. Ford's critics should get to work finding viable candidates to oppose him in the election, and also see what they can do about the sad fact that barely half of the city's eligible voters bothered to mark a ballot last time. This is the moment for an apathetic and divided electorate to change its ways.
Gawker.com, the U.S. website that first alleged the existence of a video in which Mr. Ford is said to be seen inhaling from a crack pipe, reported Tuesday that the drug dealer who tried to sell the video to Gawker now says, via an intermediary, "it's gone. Leave me alone." Unless such a video still surfaces and is made public, it is likely that Mr. Ford will survive the allegations linked to it, allegations he has consistently denied.
Not that he will have survived unscathed. The timing and wording of his denials, the coarseness of his counter-attacks, and the steady march of trusted and seasoned staff out of his office since the story broke have left him isolated and something of a toxic political liability. The fact he has replaced his exited staff with inexperienced recent university graduates does not inspire much confidence. And it can't be forgotten that Mr. Ford has lurched from personal scandal to personal scandal since his election in 2010. Many of them were relatively minor, but they've added up.
Perhaps the real crisis wrought by the video allegations is that Toronto is now more divided than ever. Mr. Ford's populist, anti-taxation message won him votes in the city's suburbs in 2010, but the vast majority of the votes in downtown Toronto went to his opponent, George Smitherman. With recent polls showing that Mr. Ford's base outside of downtown has been unshaken by the video allegations, it is safe to say that the chasm between the city and its suburbs has widened.
So, what to do? The most pressing step now is for Mr. Ford's critics to launch searches for mayoral candidates who can appeal to both the downtown and the suburban voter; fiscally conservative candidates who can keep the city's spending under control while also selling much-needed transit-expansion plans; charismatic candidates who have a vision that suits Toronto's ambitions as one of the largest cities in North America, and who can energize a notoriously indifferent electorate into taking the trouble to actually vote.
This is no time for Mr. Ford's critics to sit and moan about his survival skills. And hoping that an alleged video that has never been authenticated suddenly surfaces is not a good strategy with only 18 months to go before the next municipal election. Toronto can grow from this sordid episode, but only if people act.