Monday, May 27, 2013

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Crack Cocaine, and a City Awaiting the Tale of the Smartphone Video

Rob Ford at the wheel. After a weekend of denial, Torontonians await the tale of the tape. Image Credit:
(Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Rob Ford and a City Awaiting the Tale of the Smartphone Video

I wonder if Torontonians knew what they were signing on for when they elected Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto in 2010. How closely was everyone paying attention? The slogan, I'll admit, was very clever at the time: "Respect for taxpayers." That saying lost some of its cleverness as Ford became increasingly attached to the word. Other conservatives then picked up the ball. Now the word 'taxpayer' is right up there in the political vocabulary with 'Toronto elites.' These are words designed to evoke caricature images of people who belong to certain economic classes and hold certain beliefs.

In the former case, it's Regular Joes who vote Conservative and hold the highest respect for someone who will keep cash in their pockets - and out of the tax man's. Because the most important thing in life is saving money. Not the quality of the neighbourhoods we live in or the level of services cities provide (everything from water sanitation to outdoor pools in the summer)

Toronto elites, of course, are the Michael Ignatieffs, Dalton McGuintys, and David Millers of the city. Highly educated people with money who have left leaning political views. Oh, and they know what's in all our best interests. Tell me the phrase 'Toronto elites' doesn't bring to mind Premier Dad, as McGuinty was nicknamed when he led the Ontario Liberals.

Since his name has embedded itself in the minds of Toronto's public (not to mention the brains of federal and provincial politicians) what mental images does Rob Ford bring to mind?

In the last two weeks that image has been of a man keeping company with drug dealers while smoking crack cocaine. After the story broke, Ford kept silent for a week. His brother, city councilor Doug Ford, even disappeared for two days himself, dropping off the Grid, as it were.

Until now Rob's brother has a history of defending the error prone Mayor promptly. Why the silence? Why the disappearing act? Then there is Rob's prolonged silence. When he finally did give a statement to the media on Friday, May 24, he said that it was under advice from his lawyer that he kept mum.

Oh, and there is the small matter pointed out by the Toronto Sun that Ford did not take the step of suing The Toronto Star and Gawker for libel. If a newspaper of record were to say that I smoked crack cocaine in the company of drug dealers, I would certainly pursue legal action. But Ford has not done so. Why?

Also interesting to note, before Rob Ford spoke on May 24, his brother Doug defended him on May 22. To quote: "Rob is telling me these stories are untrue, that these accusations are ridiculous. And I believe him." Then he goes on to defend his brother's administration.

Did you notice how Doug's language leaves room to wiggle? When Rob spoke for himself last Friday, again there appeared language with wiggle room to spare. "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine. As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist."

To the questions. Does that mean he has never smoked crack cocaine? Since he leaves the possibility of the video's existence open with that sentence, does such a video exist? (He has since repeatedly denied that it does)

Then the exits began. Within the last week, Ford has fired his former Chief of Staff Mark Towhey. Then, today, George Christopoulos, his press secretary, and Isaac Ransom, deputy communications officer for the Mayor's Office, quit.

Oh, and his former Press Secretary Adrienne Batra ripped Mayor Ford in The Toronto Sun.

Where Does Toronto Go from Here? 

Denial of the allegations came a little too late for my liking. And since Gawker, the outlet that broke the story, reached their goal with the indiegogo fundraising campaign, it's time for the video's owners to come forward. If it's true after all these denials, Ford should exit stage right and save what dignity he has left.

Side Effects

If you still haven't had your fill of drugs and political intrigue, I suggest watching Side Effects, a thinking man's thriller from director Steven Soderbergh. It touches on many questions that should be asked about an increasingly anxious, medication dependent society. Where does responsibility lie when someone on medication breaks the law? No spoilers will be forthcoming here. You'll just have to watch it for yourself. 

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