Global Politics

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

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Credit: REUTERS/Aaron Harris

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reacts during a budget meeting at City Hall in Toronto, January 30, 2014.

There's a reason some call Toronto 'Crazy Town' — and these days, that often has something to do with its mayor, Rob Ford.

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

Last year, Ford was involved in a widely-reported substance abuse scandal when a video surfaced showing him smoking what he now admits was crack cocaine.

For most politicians, that would have been a career-ending moment. Not for Ford.

He didn't quit, and he has fought to stay in City Hall.

Toronto's City Council couldn't dislodge him, so it voted to remove some of the mayor's powers and grant them to the deputy Mayor.

“Some [people] have characterized it as the death of shame — politicians that we see in political scandals, or sex scandals or drug scandals, resign because they are embarrassed,” said Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle and author of the new book Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story.

“They don’t want to come to work every day 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.”

Doolittle was one of the reporters who broke the story of Mayor Rob Ford's cocaine use. Her new book tells his story, including his family's complex relationships.

"There’s this tension between Rob and his brother Doug, who is a city councillor," said Doolittle. "They pretend to be best friends, but there seems to be some mistrust there and some tension there, and you see it flare up in some policy debates. Doug will sometimes hijack the message and things unravel."

Doolittle said their father, Doug Ford Sr., was also a politician, in the Provincial Parliament. "He grew up during the depression, dirt poor, [a] self-made millionaire who had started a label company."

And as Rob Ford grew up, the family dynamics were a little odd.

"In the late ‘90s, [Doug Ford Sr.] had stored some money in his basement in a tin can behind a brick in a wall and he realized it was missing one day," recounted Doolittle. "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’s something that most people can’t imagine happening in their own home."

Ford's political career has weathered many storms, but the perhaps the biggest test will be in October, when Toronto residents will cast their ballots in the mayoral election.

Ford is running again and, so far, he's maintaining strong popularity in voter polls.

"The big takeaway from Rob Ford for other politicians is that Rob Ford spent ten years as a city councillor building a brand as someone who cared about the little guy," said Doolittle. "If you were a constituent in Rob Ford’s ward and you phoned him because you had a problem in your neighbourhood — maybe your leaves weren’t being collected or your streets weren’t ploughed or there was a pothole — he would call you back."

"Or he would show up at your door with city staff and try to get your issue fixed.  And 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."

And that's a brand he is counting on to get him through the scandals and re-elected come the fall.

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