Toronto’s embattled Mayor Rob Ford has launched his reelection bid. Now, wipe that smirk off your face. Yes, this is the same Mayor Rob Ford who was too drunk to remember smoking crack on a video we’ve all seen. It’s also the same Rob Ford who is second in the polls in a field of 30 or so. As hard as it might be to believe, Ford might just win in October. And the reason is we’re all laughing at him.
Betsy Powell, a reporter for the Toronto Star covering city hall, has cited a poll from April 14 that puts Ford’s support at 27%. Olivia Chow (the widow of one of my personal heroes, Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party up there) leads with 34%. That same poll has John Tory (appropriately named given he’s a Canadian conservative) at 24%. What is going on here?
Simply put, Ford’s great appeal stems from the fact that he is a fat drunk who is getting picked on by the media. If you think that Americans are cynical about the role the media play in politics, you need to go talk to some Ford Nation folks in Toronto. It’s no secret that every time the press slams him, his supporters dig in harder.
More than anything else, there is a social-class issue here that may surprise those who think of Canada as a fairly egalitarian society. City Councilor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother and the guy running his campaign, made no bones about it back in February when his brother and Tory registered as candidates. He accused the media in Canada of working “to knock Rob off.”
And then, he turned his guns on fellow conservative Tory, who is former CEO of Rogers Communications (a cell phone provider), commissioner of the Canadian Football League and recently a radio talk show host. “You’re looking right now at the blue bloods, and the establishment and the elites with John Tory, versus the blue-collar, hard- working folks,” said Councillor Ford.
He added, “How can you call John Tory centre-right when he has the same [George] Smitherman group supporting him?” Smitherman was the Liberal Party’s candidate in 2010 who lost to Mayor Ford.
Another reporter for the Star, Jim Coyle, had a column over the weekend that nailed it. Although the Ford boys grew up in an affluent household, their dad was a self-made man. Unlike Joe Kennedy, who gave his sons and daughters the polish of the upper crust, “Doug Ford didn’t move to Rosedale [Toronto’s Old Money district] when he made his fortune. He moved to Etobicoke [think car-based suburbs]. And the way in which his family loved, fought and played would likely be — aside from money — utterly recognizable to folks from less favoured postal codes.”
Ford’s backers are united by this. “I’m disgusted by the way he’s been singled out,” one woman at his kickoff event stated. “The media thinks he’s below them. No wonder he was ranting and raving in that video. You people hounded him.” Not a surprise she wouldn’t give her name.
We saw this with Marion Barry in DC after his jail sentence for crack — some people will back you so long as the media are perceived to be against you. Quito Maggi, who makes a living as a Canadian political maven, has written, “The more the media ‘attacked’ Ford with legitimate news about his past and present personal behaviour, the more his supporters dug in. Polls actually showed him increasing after each negative piece of media. Although his support waned for a brief period in 2013 and early 2014 amidst revelations that he smoked crack cocaine and other embarrassing personal videos, his support has now increased again to the point that he is poised to get reelected as Mayor.”
Rob Ford reelected? It could happen. Remember this race will be run under the first-past-the-post system. The person with the most votes, whether that is a majority or not, wins. With Chow and Tory splitting the anti-Ford vote, it wouldn’t take much, say a last-minute surge to a fourth candidate, to leave Ford’s 27% as the top mark. The city council has asked the provincial government to be allowed to change the voting system, but it won’t happen in time for this autumn’s election.
If Ford is reelected, it will be in large part because he’s a fat drunk, the media called him on it, and one in four voters hate the media more than they hate fat drunks as leaders. Stay tuned, though, because the campaign is going to look like a train wreck in slow motion. Make some popcorn and enjoy the debacle — unless, of course, you actually live in Toronto.