We cannot watch the news or a late night comedy program without hearing about our Mayor. We cannot visit our social media sites or engage in water cooler conversation without the topic popping up. We are fascinated by the entire narrative, and the human being at the center of it. I’ve asked myself, why?
When it comes to Hollywood “train wrecks”, I’ve never posted an article or shared a vicariously snarky comment. I didn’t glory in the downfall of Charlie Sheen or the sadness of the life of Lindsay Lohan. I can disapprove. I can be sad for the fall-out around them (let’s not forget, Sheen once allegedly shot a woman he claimed to love – his behavior has hurt people.) I can hope they get help. I don’t feel the need to jump into the debate on their lives. I don’t know them.
Admittedly, the Ford saga is a great narrative. You have a hero or villain, depending on which side of the story you’re on. You have supporting characters that might border on ridiculous, were they invented. (The big brother/enforcer? The long-suffering wife? The embittered ex-staffer turned social media pundit? I couldn’t write this.) We’re waiting for the next episode. The one in which the hero emerges triumphant. The one in which the villain gets his comeuppance. Like many other larger-than-life stories, we want to see how this ends. We want to see if the character we relate to or feel superior to proves our value. “He’s just like us,” we’ll say, or “We’re better than that.” No matter which side you’re on, there’s an invested personal take. Still, I don’t follow the Hollywood tales, so why do I follow this one?
In the end, the power of Hollywood is limited to the power that wealth and fame brings. Mayor Ford, on the other hand, has actual power. Limited though it may be, as a result of our council system, he has power. He has the power to make gay kids feel like they don’t matter when he claims to be on vacation during Pride, then shows up at an event in East York. He has the power to close down shelters or stop them from ever existing. He has the power to create an executive council with no women on it. He has this power and he’s using it in the city in which I live.
Add to that the fact that he and I have led very different lives, yet came from the same place, and yes, I’m watching. I’m watching everything. I may actually need to take a break from watching everything, but before I do, I’m going to call out a few key points of the Rob Ford dogma and put them to the verity test. Feel free to jump ahead to the argument you’re most interested in, because I’m going to go on for a while here.
1) Rob Ford watches out for the everyman. Heck, he is the everyman.
2) Rob Ford is saving money. He’s fiscally responsible.
3) Rob Ford is the only guy who can save this city.
4) Rob Ford is sick. How dare you pick on him?
5) Rob Ford is not perfect, but he’s a good guy.
There an idea, perpetuated by the office of the Mayor and the man himself, that he’s just a regular Joe. He’s the guy who gets it. At least, that’s what he keeps telling us. So how does this play out when put up against the golden test, one’s choices and behaviors? It’s easy to dismiss groups that actually count as the little guy (his stance on gays, the homeless and women have been mentioned already.) Folks even seem to approve of his treatment of these individuals, calling them special interest groups. It gives people permission to indulge their own dislike, when the guy in charge is so openly dismissive. Does that make Ford the everyman?
Nope. There’s one incident that, to me, destroys this argument, no matter where you stand on inclusivity, equality or helping those in need. That is the incident involving the Toronto Garrison Ball. The Toronto Garrison Ball is an event to honour Toronto’s armed forces members. Growing up in a blue-collar environment, I learned that the armed forces, the folks who fight and risk their lives, they typify the everyman mythos. They are the guys you just don’t disrespect.
Our Mayor, who presents himself as the champion of the sort of folks who would volunteer for service, showed up at this event so inebriated he was asked to leave. He was asked to leave an event attended by about 800 servicepeople. He was asked to leave an event that raises money for the Wounded Warriors fund. Not only did he show disrespect to the folks in uniform, he distracted from their successes on what should have been their night. These are not the actions of someone who deserves to wear the everyman mantle. These are the actions of someone either so out of control or so full of disdain that he didn’t put off his drinking for one night to show respect to folks who literally earned it by risking their lives. He doesn’t just disrespect the same people you disrespect. He disrespects everyone.
There are many, many articles that point out the silver spoon beginning of our Mayor. There are articles that show his past of privilege and the disservices he has done to the communities he claims to serve. In the end, folks continue to dismiss these as examples of how “real” Ford is. But ask yourself, would you, as a representative of your community, get so inebriated at an event to honour soldiers that you would have to be asked to leave? If your answer is yes, perhaps it’s time to take a deep look inward. If your answer is no, then congratulations, Ford is not “just like you.”
I’m throwing a caveat on this one right from the get-go. I don’t have a decent understanding of how city-wide, large-scale budgets work. I am not a fiscal genius. Looking over the coverage of the Ford saga, there are journalists that are totally convinced that his financial record is excellent and those who are convinced that it is deplorable. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I can’t present as an expert on budgets. I’m not going to try. However, lets examine a few incidents and see what they tell us about the Mayor’s fiscal choices, on the small-scale.
Rob Ford has, up until recently, held hiring power for his Mayoral office. He’s made a habit of hiring, well, football players. He’s hired his own high school football coach. He’s hired his assistant coaches at Don Bosco. He’s hired a former quarterback from the University of Toronto. Is this because football players make great political assistants? Is this because they were the best candidates for the job? Nope. We paid their salaries and it turns out that, according to multiple sources, most of them were really hired to help Ford coach football. How fiscally responsible is it to hire people based on a shared sports background? I understand the drive to surround oneself with known entities and friends, but is that in the best interest of the city? Is it the responsible choice? And to then use this resource for non-city business, it’s questionable at best.
It should also be noted that Ford recently gave his small band of workers $5000 bonuses. It’s hard to know what to say to that. $5000 is more than I make in several months. It’s not chump change. And what is it buying him? I’d really like to know.
Are these incidents conclusive proof that Ford is fiscally irresponsible? No, but they do call into question the idea that he is financially savvy and that, unlike the rest of us, really understands how it all works. I would guess that most politicians have spent money irresponsibly. But they have not all stood on a principled pedestal, declaring that only they can stop the government gravy. Gravy like hiring assistants with no political experience because they can help you with your part-time football coach aspirations.
Here’s one that sits in my craw, probably more than any other. This one is straight from the man himself. In the end, we’re told that we should forgive everything he does, because he saves the city and the taxpayers money. For a moment, let’s ignore how horrible it is that people are basically saying, “I don’t mind if he kills himself and hurts people, as long as I get a few dollars from it.” Instead, lets enjoy this list of non-crack-smoking counsellors or mayoral candidates that are also fiscal conservatives:
There you go. Four right off the top of my left-leaning head. I’m pretty sure they’ve also never degraded their spouse on air, been recorded drunk at a city event or mugged a reporter. If none of these fiscal conservatives do it for you, find one that does. The truth is, there are always fiscal conservatives available for those who prioritize it in their voting. What we need is an ethical and respectable fiscal conservative. Let’s not forget, the words Right and Honourable are in the title of Mayor. If you can’t even make it through your title job title without making eyes roll, perhaps you’re in the wrong job.
I have a mental illness. Let’s get that out of the way right now. I know I have a mental illness. I get help for it. It’s a big deal and it sucks. That said, let’s examine the defense that Rob Ford is sick.
This defense breaks down almost as soon as it exits one’s lips. If Rob Ford is not an addict or mentally ill, then his behavior cannot be excused and he is simply a horrible person. If he is ill, then he is currently unable to fulfill his job because of it and he is not in a place to lead the city. Either he is sick and he needs to step down or he is a disgrace and he needs to step down. His potential illness cannot be used as a shield against criticism.
That is not to say that a person with a mental illness or a recovered addict could not be a good and honourable mayor. They could. What I am saying is that their mental illness or addiction should not be an admissible excuse for what can most kindly be called unprofessional conduct.
Let’s ignore the obvious question of whether being a good guy qualifies you to run the biggest city in our fair country (it doesn’t.) Let’s also ignore whether Ford is really a god guy (he’s not.)
When someone is accused of a crime, or a misbehavior, or a mistake, or whatever we’re calling it this week, there is an opportunity to indulge in the fact that we have all made mistakes. However, Ford’s repeated use of this strategy is what those in the biz call deflection. The sins of everyone else are not justification for your own. When someone says “Have you done drugs?” And you say, “Well, have you?”, that’s deflection. When someone says, are you involved in illegal activities?” and the response is, “I’m not perfect. Maybe you are. Maybe other people are.”, what you’ve done is taken a question about you and made it a question about everyone else.
We are all imperfect. But really, are we all associates of people facing drug charges? Have we all tried crack? While in office? In a drunken stupor? I have my imperfections, but there are no dead people tied to my mistakes. There are no recordings of my husband calling 911 because of our conversations. There are no moments in my adult life that I do not remember because I was so very, very drunk. And even if there were, in no circumstance would I have been drunk in a place where people were smoking crack. I’ve actually never seen someone smoke crack and I lived a building known for its drug dealers.
Does this make me a better person than our Mayor? YES! God, yes. You know what? Perfect and imperfect are two ends of a scale and in the middle are many possible levels of imperfection. Those levels are not all equivalent. Not all crimes or mistakes are equal. This is evidenced by the varying degrees of punishment we mete out for different infractions. The fellow who goes over the speed limit gets a different punishment than the fellow who drives over the limit, while drunk, in a school zone. We understand that both have committed offenses, but they are not on the same scale. Our scale of shared imperfection does not excuse us from all offense. In fact, it is the very tool we use to measure the severity of a crime or mistake. We know that some offenses are worse than others. It seems the Mayor does not.
Whew. Can tell you how good it feels to get all that out? I know that there will be a lively debate over the points I’ve made, so all I ask is that we avoid hyperbole without factual backing and that we try to be respectful, to the best of our ability. I’m eager to hear differing points of view. Let’s be civil. Let’s talk. Let’s engage in the kind of debate that puts council to shame. After all, we’re none of us perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.