Meet the chaotic, controversial crack-smoking mayor of Toronto

HIS mother thinks he’s just ‘a little too human’. His brother believes he’s the ‘white Obama’. His supporters call themselves Ford Nation. Will the real Rob Ford please stand up?

Rob Ford has many faces, but the one he’ll forever be known for is as the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto, having garnered global attention earlier this month for doing just that.

And who could have guessed, as he stood red-faced and repentant before the city he claims to love so much, that the admission was just the tip of the rock, so to speak.

Since his mea culpa on Nov 5, hardly a day has passed without the 44-year-old hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In an extensive police document, part of an investigation into guns and gangs in the mayor’s constituency, Ford is named hundreds of times and is accused of physically and verbally abusing staff, drink-driving, snorting cocaine and roaming around city hall on St Patrick’s Day 2012 during an all night binge.

A photograph in the public domain shows the mayor arm in arm with alleged gang members, one of whom was killed in a shooting on the streets of downtown Toronto in March; the other two were arrested in police raids as part of the investigation.

His friend and sometime driver Alexander Lisi has been charged with extortion for allegedly attempting to obtain the infamous crack video.

The list goes on, and on, and it’s fair to pose the question — how the hell did this man ever get elected by the ever-so-careful Canucks? Apart from these recent events, Ford has been in hot water many times since becoming a city councillor in 2000, but has always emerged relatively unscathed.

He even managed to survive being kicked from office by a court ruling last year after a citizen took a conflict of interest case against him.

Ford was found guilty of breaching the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by participating in a council vote that absolved him of paying back more than $3,000 in donations collected for his private football charity. The ruling meant the mayor was to be tossed from office, but he overturned the verdict on appeal.

Were it not for the smoking gun — or indeed crack pipe — it’s likely he would have bluffed his way out of this debacle too.

So how did a privileged kid from the leafy Toronto suburbs who dreamed of becoming a football player, end up with such a messy rap sheet? His was not an ordinary family, and it’s fair to say the Fords have a mafia-like presence in their local community, Etobicoke, a 12km drive west of downtown Toronto. The Ford patriarch was a hugely successful businessman who founded a multimillion dollar labelling and printing firm, which the family still runs to this day.

The Fords — Rob is the youngest of four siblings — grew up in a sprawling home, with a swimming pool and enough room to host thousands of guests. And that they do. Akin to the Fianna Fáil race tents of yore, for many years Ford held an annual barbecue in his mother’s backyard called Ford Fest. Last year’s event was so big it was moved to a public park north of the city.

He and his loyal and ever-present brother Doug, also a city councillor, coach and sponsor football teams, and as politicians concentrate on hyper-local issues, often using their clout for personal matters, including fixing potholes outside the family business and using a city bus to transport their football team.

But beneath this loveable rogue image lies a much more sinister story. An extensive investigation into the Ford family published by the Globe and Mail earlier this year painted a picture of a family once deeply immersed in the illegal drug scene, though not explicitly Rob himself. The story alleged Rob’s older brothers, Doug and Randy, ran a steady marijuana business from the family basement in the 1980s. His sister was involved with white supremacist groups and in January 2012, her long-time boyfriend, a convicted cocaine and hash dealer, was charged with threatening to murder the mayor.

But these issues didn’t prevent Ford, who served three terms as city councillor from 2000 until October 2010, from successfully rising to the top of Toronto’s municipal politics.

As a councillor, his political strategy was built around lambasting what he called flamboyant spending at city hall. He promised cost cutting and no tax increases, and stood as the polar opposite of what his supporters despised, the so-called elite of downtown Toronto who benefitted from city hall decisions, while they, suburban dwellers, did not.

His instinctive ability to align himself with the common people, and portray himself as a hard-working decent politician doing everything possible to save taxpayers dollars, paid dividends at the ballot box.

Once in city hall, Ford proposed cuts to council members office budgets and travel allowances. He walked the walk by refusing to use his allotted city budget for office expenses, paying them from his salary instead. He was quoted as saying “all this office budget stuff is self-promotion to benefit yourself. Why should the taxpayers have to pay for it? It boggles my mind.” The strategy worked, and even though he displayed ignorant, unpolished and ineloquent behaviour, his popularity soared and he prepared to run for mayor.

Ironically, his campaign was built on trust, his catchphrase was asking voters: ‘Who do you trust with your tax dollars?’ That trust was put under serious strain when, in 2010, the Toronto Star printed a story that he’d been arrested for drunk driving and marijuana possession in Florida in 1999. In a pattern all too familiar now, Ford denied it, but later had to backtrack. He nevertheless went on to be elected mayor.

Fast forward to April of this year when two Toronto Star reporters were summoned to a car park late at night to view a grainy mobile-phone video.

There was no mistaking who it was and the Star printed its explosive story a few weeks later. In true Ford fashion the incident was vehemently denied for six months, during which time he took every opportunity to criticise certain sections of the media for a smear campaign.

It took a statement from the city’s top cop to jog his memory and finally fess up.

The rest is almost history.

Following weeks of turmoil at city hall, the mayor was finally stripped of his powers this week, the locks have been changed and Ford is a mayor in name only.

He’s not giving up though.

Clinging to the last vestiges of power, and vowing to seek reelection in 2014, he’s nothing more than an object of ridicule for late night US talk show hosts and video compilation nerds.

So, there’s no real answer to the conundrum of how Toronto elected such a man as mayor of North America’s fourth largest city. The evidence was always there, it seems. Crack was simply the all-time high of a chaotic, controversial career littered with clues to the real Rob Ford.


Aug 2010: Ford admits to a DUI in Florida

Oct 2010: Elected mayor of Toronto

March 2012: A citizen files an application alleging Ford breached the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by participating in a council vote that absolved him of paying back more than $3,000 in donations collected for his private football charity.

Aug 2012: Admits to reading while driving

Nov 2012: A judge says Ford should be removed from office due to conflict of interest

Jan 2013: Ford wins appeal that quashes the ruling and allows him to remain in office

March 2013: Former campaign rival Sarah Thomson says Ford “grabbed my ass”. Ford calls the claim “completely false”.

March 2013: A Toronto Star story that he appeared intoxicated and was asked to leave a gala dinner on Feb 23.

May 2013: Ford denies allegations that he is the subject of a video reportedly showing him smoking crack cocaine. He called the reports “ridiculous”.

May 2013: Catholic school board fires Ford as coach of football team

August 2013: The man who showed two journalists an alleged video of Ford smoking crack cocaine is arrested during a series of police raids in June.

August: Ford on smoking pot: “Oh yeah, I won’t deny that. I’ve smoked a lot of it.”

October: The mayor’s friend and driver Alessandro (Sandro) Lisi, 35, is charged with possession and trafficking of marijuana.

Oct 31: Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair reports that the police are in possession of “a digital video file that is consistent with what has been described in media reports”.

Nov 5: Finally admits to smoking crack cocaine but says he will not be resigning or taking time off

Nov 7: A newly released video shows Rob Ford yelling wildly, swearing profusely and acting erratically. Ford acknowledges the video and said he had been “extremely, extremely inebriated” and that he was embarrassed but would not resign

Nov 12: Rob Ford receives formal notice that the majority of his council colleagues want him to take a leave of absence

Nov 14: Rob Ford shocks reporters when he uses a crude expression while denying allegations he made sexual advances toward a former staffer

Nov 18: Council strips Ford of his powers. He is mayor only in name.


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