'Why are you here?" Jimmy Kimmel asked Rob Ford. "What good could come of this?" Torontonians have been asking as much for months, and about more than just a TV appearance.
No circus act with ambition can limit its audience to its hometown, which explains why Toronto's putative mayor pitched his tent in Hollywood, entertainment capital of the world, during the weekend of the Academy Awards. P.T. Barnum is nodding appreciatively in his grave. But while Mr. Ford obviously agrees that there is no such thing as bad publicity, his junket to Hollywood is proof of the opposite. It highlighted the most insincere and galling aspects of Mr. Ford's version of politics. It also highlighted his remarkable lack of self-awareness. He was not invited to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live as an exalted foreign dignitary. He is not America's model mayor. Mr. Kimmel instead cast him in a part he's been successfully playing on television for months: America's favourite sideshow freak.
Typically of Mr. Ford, he still does not get this. He was summoned to Los Angeles to be the piñata at the piñata party.
As with all things Ford, his trip appears to have been a hastily improvised affair, done without a script. In a video posted on YouTube by the mayor last Wednesday, he whined that he doesn't like being called an "international celebrity" and said he was unaware of any American late-night shows inviting him to be a guest. Three days later he was being picked up at LAX, to great comedic effect, by his chauffeur, Mr. Kimmel.
By that afternoon, Mr. Ford was suddenly telling reporters that this was city business, sort of. Why, he'd gone to Hollywood to promote Toronto as a location for filmmakers – official business of which Toronto's film commissioner was completely unaware, and for which no meetings were scheduled. Mr. Ford also made the claim that he would appear at the Oscars ceremony, which he did not. Later on Saturday he was spotted walking on Sunset Strip, famous for its nightclubs, where he handed out his business card into the evening hours.
None of this adds up, of course, but nothing ever does with Mr. Ford – not his denials about being drunk at an NHL hockey game, not his inconsistencies about his drug and alcohol use, not his explanations of why so many associates and acquaintances are the subjects of police investigations. He is a politician who simply says what he has to in one moment in order to get to the next.
Take, for instance, the question of who paid for the trip. Mr. Ford brought his brother Doug, the councillor to whom he is joined at the hip, and his other brother, Randy, as well as three aides. Who picked up the tab? Mr. Ford's story evolved over the weekend, from "the family" and Mr. Kimmel's sharing the costs, to "the family" paying for everything except one dinner. Under the rules of City Hall, even one dinner may be a violation of the ethical guidelines for accepting gifts. Expect the story to continue to mutate.
"I'm just a normal, average, hardworking politician," Mr. Ford said to Mr. Kimmel, in one of the funnier lines of the night. This was after Mr. Kimmel had just spent the better part of a half an hour holding the mayor up to well-deserved mockery, mostly by simply showing video of the man in action. The response from an incredulous Mr. Kimmel wrote itself: "You are not the average politician, my friend." No, the man is a train wreck. Or as it's referred to in Hollywood, comedy gold.
Mr. Ford continues to claim that he is just an ordinary guy looking out for the taxpayer, not some spoiled member of the dreaded Toronto elite who can dip into his bank accounts and buy five last-minute round-trip tickets for a three-night hop to Los Angeles for Oscar weekend, where he and his buddies can outfit themselves with new suits, hang on Sunset Strip, party in a private cabana at a trendy hotel, hobnob with celebrities and get to do four segments (even an Oscar winner doesn't get four segments) on one of America's most popular late-night talk shows. Oh wait a minute, he can do that. The script about Mr. Ford being an everyman has more holes in it than a Hollywood blockbuster shot in Toronto but set in Chicago.
That brings us to the final point about the illusion of Mr. Ford. He should have resigned months ago, but he has stubbornly clung to what remaining power he has and is actively campaigning for re-election. Part of the reason he is able to do this is that he has become what he claims not to be: a celebrity. But his is a celebrity created in the U.S. and reflected back to us on late-night television. Draw back the curtain, as Torontonians must do this election year, and all we see is a failed politician tainted by a history of lies, boorish behaviour and admitted illicit activity. He is a joke, and it's on us. Does Canada's largest city really want a mayor invented in Hollywood?
"Why are you here?" asked the late-night talk-show host, before going to town on his target. "What good could come of this?" If it reminds voters of who Rob Ford is and what he's done, maybe something.