A WEEK is a long time in politics, but in Toronto, what a difference 48 hours made.
Mid last week, the Rob Ford re-election juggernaut was chugging along full-steam ahead.
In second place in the polls, despite his past indiscretions, the infamous crack-smoking mayor was writing a comeback narrative Bill Clinton would be proud of.
Ford’s unlikely redemption story began in earnest in July, when he returned from a stint in rehab.
Promising that his crack-smoking — and alcohol-soaked — days were behind him, he vowed to work harder than ever for the city he loves.
The last few months have seen him wheeling out his usual populist sound bites: that he alone is the guardian of the taxpayer, champion of the little man, dedicated to making the city work efficiently, unlike the downtown “elitists”, he so despises.
He revelled in the release of councillors’ expenses — he and his brother, from a wealthy family, don’t claim a cent from the city.
Anytime the media broached the subject of his past, Ford opined it was a “personal attack.” He had moved on, everyone else should too.
Controversy was never far away. During the Ford family’s annual barbecue, Ford Fest, supporters verbally, and physically, attacked gay rights protesters.
The mayor has historically refused to back gay rights, or attend Toronto’s Pride event, and remained seated while the city council gave a standing ovation to organisers of Toronto’s World Pride festival this summer.
So last week, things were ticking along as normal in this world of cartoon politics, and a visit and endorsement from Mike Tyson, boxing legend — and convicted rapist — was just another day in the circus of city hall.
Tyson called Ford “the best mayor Toronto has ever had”, before telling a TV reporter live on air to “go fuck yourself, you rat piece of shit,” for bringing up his rape conviction.
Then, on Wednesday evening, the news broke: Ford had been rushed to hospital with a large tumour on his abdomen.
His older brother, and campaign manager, Doug held a press conference. And in true Ford-style, said little, and asked the media for privacy, refusing to speculate on his little brother’s political future.
Could it be that Ford, not because of crack-smoking, chronic drinking, alleged domestic violence, and involvement with known gang members, would be forced out of the mayoral race because of a health matter?
On Friday the city got its answer. “People know me as a guy who faces things head-on and never gives up, and as your mayor I have done just that,” Ford said from his hospital bed.
“I derailed the gravy train, cut unnecessary spending and made government more accountable. I did this by facing these challenges head on.”
“Now I could be facing the battle of my lifetime, and I want the people of Toronto to know that I intend to face this challenge head-on, and win…..My heart is heavy when I tell you that I’m unable to continue my campaign for re-election as your mayor.”
Torontonians, for a fleeting moment, believed the city was to be free from the Ford family’s clutches. But the elation was short-lived. Ford, as leaders in totalitarian regime do, anointed his brother and campaign manager Doug, to take his place.
“I’ve asked Doug to finish what we started together, so that all we’ve accomplished isn’t washed away... I have asked him to run to become the next mayor of Toronto, because we need him. We cannot go backwards.”
With a 2pm deadline to file election papers looming, there began a frantic chase to see if Doug could get in the race.
With eight minutes left, the papers were signed, sealed, delivered. The end result of some almighty last-minute shuffling: Doug is running for mayor, Rob is running for his old council seat, and, in another twist to the tale, their nephew Mikey — who was taking his own shot for Rob’s seat — is running for the Toronto District School Board.
As for the elder Ford, it seems unlikely the more abrasive, aggressive and disliked of the two, can finish what his little brother started.
It means — just in case anyone cares — candidate John Tory, currently out in front in the polls, will likely win.
A respected businessman, he is as unFord as you can get, and endeared himself even further to Torontonians last week by branding Doug an “insult machine.”
“I don’t think Doug Ford offers Toronto more of the same. In fact, he may offer Toronto something worse,” he said, upon hearing of his entry.
Toronto heads to the polls on October 27, but with Rob down and out, Ford Nation’s Hollywood ending may have to wait, likely till 2018, when Ford the younger, certain to retain his council seat, will no doubt launch another bid for the city’s highest office.