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Toronto city councillor Doug Ford (L) and his brother, Mayor Rob Ford (L) react to the gallery after the mayor and an unidentified member of his staff captured images of the gallery during a special council meeting at City Hall in Toronto in this November 18, 2013 file photo. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's brother will run for election in his place after the mayor withdrew from the race on September 12, 2014 due to a health crisis. REUTERS/Aaron Harris/Files (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS)

AARON HARRIS/REUTERS

Mayor Rob Ford is out of the race. Sort of. After Mr. Ford was hospitalized earlier this week with a potentially serious condition, it's understandable that he would withdraw his bid to retain the city's highest office. On Friday, with only minutes to spare before the deadline for dropping out of the race, Mr. Ford did just that.

But as with all things Ford, the story doesn't end there. It's more complicated, messy and troubling. The Fords haven't just withdrawn Rob's name as mayor. They've opened a game of musical political chairs, shuffling family candidates among three elected offices. Friday afternoon was the deadline to drop out of the race – but it was also the deadline to jump in. Doug Ford is now running for mayor, in place of Rob. Rob Ford, no longer in the mayoral race, is suddenly running as a city councillor in Etobicoke's Ward 2. That's brother Doug's current seat. And Ward 2 abruptly became open, or at least Fordless, because 20-year-old nephew Michael Ford, who works at the family business, Deco Labels, and who was until Friday afternoon the Ford family candidate, stepped aside. Michael's now running for school trustee. He's a recent high school graduate, so he brings experience to the job.

If the story were simply that Mayor Ford had withdrawn due to illness, the only possible response would be to wish him a speedy recovery and leave it at that. We've had many criticisms of the man's behaviour and choices, his lying and coverups, his misguided policies, his outbursts and his often estranged relationship with facts and truth. But if he were hospitalized and stepping out of politics, there would be nothing to say about any of that now. The focus would be on the man's health. But Friday's manoeuvres leave an entire city scratching its collective head.

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Headlines reading "Rob Ford Drops Out of Race" don't tell even half the story. Mr. Ford has pulled out of one race due to illness, but he's simultaneously dropped himself right into another race for city council. And brother Doug, supposedly not seeking any municipal office, has done an abrupt turn and is now seeking the highest municipal office, while a third Ford is shunted about to make it all possible. How can any of this be?

The Fords are acting as if Toronto government posts are rotten boroughs, with interchangeable Ford family members free to be moved around on a chessboard of captive constituencies. Voters deserve better.

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