When you’re known around the globe as the crack-smoking Mayor of Toronto, it’s hard to stay out of the media spotlight.
But somehow, Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford had finally found a way to do that — until this week.
A new amateur video is making the rounds online, showing the mayor, apparently drunk, rambling at one of his regular hangouts, a Toronto fast-food restaurant called “Steak Queen.”
In the video, Ford is talking and cursing in a fake Jamaican accent, speaking incoherently to a few people outside the frame.
Ford had promised to give up drinking as part of his re-election bid. And he is running for re-election. He made that official in the beginning of January.
Even though he seems to be having trouble with his sobriety, Torontonians are proving forgiving. In a recent poll, 41 percent of those surveyed said they’d vote to re-elect Ford in October. According to one man in the amateur video at Steak Queen, “We have the best mayor in the world.”
Ford is hoping Toronto’s reputation for tolerance will extend to his behavior. People say he’s surprisingly congenial in person, and the mayor seems to be hitching his re-election hopes on that likability.
Ford hasn’t held any traditional campaign or media events since signing up as a candidate for re-election. Ford says the media and other city elites have it in for him, but ordinary people support him. So he’s bypassing the media entirely, and going to meet the people face to face. He’s been interacting with voters directly, by showing up unannounced at various public events.
Nearly every weekend, Torontonians have been posting their Rob Ford sightings on social media, with photos and captions like, “L-O-L, Rob Ford is preaching at my church!” He even went nightclubbing one Saturday night. Instagram went into overdrive with people posting selfies with Ford.
Sonia Yarkhani, a Toronto-area hair stylist, met him at an arts fundraiser the same night as the nightclub sighting.
“Everybody was so stunned that he was there. They were like, ‘Rob Ford is here. Rob Ford is here!’ Everyone was definitely interested to get into the limelight of Rob Ford,” she says.
Yarkhani says he was talking to people, taking pictures, giving autographs. So she approached the mayor and asked him to pose with her for a selfie, which she immediately posted on Instagram. She says he comes off as a nice guy and a real person.
“These types of things that have been made public in his life happen in everybody else’s life. It just so happens that he gets ridiculed for it because he’s the mayor. Torontonians do relate to him because he’s real, and he’s honest — or if he’s not honest, he’s real about it,” she says.
It’s a deceptively clever tactic, according to Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson University.
“This is re-writing the rule book as to how you run an election campaign. He does not tell the media about his whereabouts, not wanting to be within their reach and scrutiny. Instead, he wants to present himself as this massively popular, attractive political public figure who the people of Toronto just can’t get enough of,” he says.
Siemiatycki suspects Ford is hoping the multiplying effect of social media will work in his favour. People tweet photos of themselves with the mayor, and the pics go viral. They show the mayor smiling with regular people, happy to be seen with him. It’s free, uncritical publicity.
“It’s almost ingenious. It’s an attempt to very much control how he is perceived and what image of himself is portrayed,” he adds.
It’s too soon to tell if Ford’s strategy of direct one-on-one contact will work. At this point, most of his higher-profile opponents haven’t launched their campaigns.
And if Ford is off the wagon, as the latest video suggests, there may be more images of his drunken antics to compete with all of the smiling photos on Instagram.
The following video contains profanity.