In 'Crazy Town,' Rob Ford continues to reign — and run for re-election

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Did you catch this on Jimmy Kimmel's show this week?

Jimmy Kimmel: If you operate under the impression that local politics are boring, you probably don't live in Toronto. Our first guest tonight has tripped, bumped, danced, argued and smoked his way into our national consciousness. He's here tonight because I put him on my vision board and he appeared. Please welcome Mayor Rob Ford.

Werman: Yes, that's Kimmel introducing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. He probably needs no introduction at this point. Ford became fodder for the late night shows after getting caught on video smoking what he now admits was crack cocaine. His out of control drinking and inclination to cuss are also well documented. But the mayor has not resigned. In fact, he's running for another term. Robyn Doolittle of the Toronto Star was one of the reporters who broke the story of Mayor Ford's cocaine use. She's also now the author of "Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story."

Robyn Doolittle: Someone characterized this situation as the death of shame. A lot of politicians that we see ensnared in political scandals or sex scandals or drug scandals resign because they're embarrassed, they don't want to come to work everyday and be asked questions like "Were you taking photos of your genitals and texting them to people?" Rob Ford comes to work and reporters ask him "Were you drunk driving last night? Are you still using crack cocaine? Did you have a prostitute in your office?" And he's content to be asked those questions. That's a bit of a powerful thing in terms of his ability to stay in office.

Werman: And he's running again, is that right?

Doolittle: And he's running again and the latest poll had him tied for the lead.

Werman: South of the Canadian border really does sound and look like Toronto is crazy town but the point of your book is that in order to understand Ford and his relationship to Toronto, you have to understand Ford's own family background. So what was the one story you heard about his family's perennial dysfunction where you really started to get who Rob Ford is?

Doolittle: When I was writing this book, I set out to answer two questions: One, how is it that a city like Toronto, which is sort've like the New York of Chicago of Canada, most people think it's pretty progressive, it's left-wing, it's environmentally conscience, culturally inclined, and how is it that they elected this guy who seems better suited to tea party politics in some way? And secondly, who is Rob Ford? Why is he the way that he is? Why does he do the things that he does? When I was setting out to answer that second question, you couldn't avoid his family's influence. For one thing, there's this tension between Rob and his brother, Doug, who's a city counselor. They pretend to be best friends but there seems to be some mistrust and tension there and you see it flare up in policy debates. Doug will sometimes hijack the message and things will unravel. There also seems to be this inclination to lie whenever they're confronted with something that's unpleasant.

When I was doing my research there was this one big thing that jumped out at me. Their father, Doug Ford Sr., was a member of provincial parliament and he grew up in the Depression, dirt poor, self made millionaire, started a label company, became very wealthy and eventually moved to politics. He had four children and the first two struggled with hard drug addiction and then Rob obviously has his issues. In the late '90's, he stored some money in his basement in a tin can behind a brick in the wall and he realized it was missing one day and his reaction was to hook up his four grown children to a lie detector test to see which one had stolen it. I think that that's something that a lot of people can't necessarily imagine happening in their home but to me it was just such a telling detail about the Ford's family's relationship with telling the truth and lying. That was the detail that really stuck out for me.

Werman: Then in 2006, Rob Ford's Father died. You think that's kind of a turning point when Rob Ford himself moved from abusing alcohol to going to crack cocaine?

Doolittle: I found evidence hard drug use, particularly cocaine, as early as his 20's, but trying to pinpoint that moment when a guy who maybe partied too much transitioned into having issues in his personal life that were impacting his professional life - I did focus in on the time period when his father died. Speaking with people who were close to the Ford family, close to the mayor, even extended members of the family, the consensus was that incident was so devastating to all of the Ford children that that really seems to be a time when things began to unravel.

Werman: Rob Ford admits he's a flawed person. Do you see good qualities in Rob Ford?

Doolittle: Yeah, I mean everyone of course has good qualities. I think the big takeaway from Rob Ford for other politicians is that Rob Ford spent ten years as the city counselor building a brand as someone who cared about the little guy. If you were a constituent in Rob Ford's ward and you phoned him because you had a problem in your neighborhood, maybe leaves weren't being collected or streets weren't being plowed or there was a pothole, he would call you back and he would show up at your door with city staff and try to get your issue fixed. Even if he wasn't able to get your issue fixed, you had this feeling that "Wow, that guy really listened to me, he really cared," and over the years he built up this loyal group of followers who felt that "You know, if it was any other counselor, any other politician, I'd call, I'd get their office, I'd get put on their wait list, an executive assistant might call me back, nothing is going to get fixed. But this guy will take my call and he cares."

I think that that's the big takeaway for other politicians, is that people feel so disenfranchised, unheard by their elected officials that they're willing to overlook crack cocaine and ties with illegal street gangs that police say are smuggling guns into the city and lying and possible drunk driving because they believe that this guy cares about them.

Werman: Robyn, you're clearly a solid journalist who covers your bases and gets the job done. Your career would've been made eventually by one story or another but it was made by this one. How do you feel about your career being made by this guy, Rob Ford?

Doolittle: I made my own career in the sense that I investigated a story that others weren't, that was in front of me. But I certainly do sometimes sit down and think "You know, if I die, the first line of my obit will have 'Rob Ford' in it. I will be tied to this guy for the rest of my life." I guess that's just how it is.

Werman: Robyn Doolittle with the Toronto Star. She's one of the reporters who broke the story of Mayor Rob Ford's crack cocaine use. She's also the author of a new book about the whole saga, called "Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story." Robyn, great to speak with you again, thanks.

Doolittle: Thanks for having me.

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