Rob Ford, a former Toronto mayor who became famous outside Canada for drunken rants and cocaine use, died Tuesday, March 22, 2016, after a long battle with pleomorphic liposarcoma, a rare cancer. He was 46.
Ford, the son of millionaire Doug Ford, Sr., entered rightwing politics in 2000 and became beloved by some as the “plain-spoken champion of the little guy” and despised by others for his “caustic insults and off-colour comments” in a tenure of “seemingly endless controversy,” to quote the Toronto Star.
For example, in 2008, as a Toronto city councilman, Ford faced criticism for comments about “the Oriental people”:
No stranger to controversial statements, the Etobicoke councillor yesterday stood by his claim that his comments during this week’s council debate were meant as a compliment to Asian people.
“Those Oriental people work like dogs…they sleep beside their machines,” he said. “The Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over…they’re hard, hard workers.”
He said in a later interview that by “taking over” he meant Asians are further advanced in business than a century ago.
David Miller, mayor of Toronto at the time, asked Ford to apologize. Ford demonstrated he had received dozens of emails and phone calls supporting his statements, and said, “I don’t know why I should (apologize),” Ford said. “People aren’t asking me to.”
In 2012, Ford threw a racial slur in the face of a taxi driver and “used ‘mocking language sounds.’” Two years later, he was caught using various racial slurs — while declaring he supported different ethnic groups:
Nobody sticks up for people like I do. Every f*cking k*ke, n*gger…whatever the race. Nobody does. I’m the most racist guy around. I’m the mayor of Toronto.
Ford was later forced to apologize by an ethics commission, yet even the apology was not without controversy — leaders of the Jewish and Ethiopian communities accused him of inviting them to the official apology but switching the time of the event to ensure they missed it.
Elsewhere, Ford was confronted by a black city council candidate, who asked him to apologize for the use of the N-word. “Ford shrugged and said, ‘It’s complicated.’” Ford faced condemnation for the term he chose for community grant initiatives he opposed: “hug-a-thug” programs. (He was notorious for slashing funds for needed social programs.) He also said without his charity youth football program, the black kids involved would be “dead or in jail,” positioning himself as what some might derisively call a “white savior.”
Doug Ford, Rob Ford’s brother and advisor, declared, “No in this city supports the black community more than Rob Ford. No one. Bottom line. Zing. Done. OK? No one.”
Ford often blamed his racist rhetoric on intoxication.
The politician who personally asked Ford to apologize for his racism wrote that Ford supporters (including some African-Canadians) gravitated toward him because “we have no options and no opportunity to get ahead” and backing Ford is an “upraised middle finger directed at a political class that, from their point of view, could not care less about their quiet struggle.”
“(Ford) shows up and helps someone fix their door that’s been broken for three months and they say, ‘Hey, this guy is a great guy,’” one resident said. “His sort of populism appeals to that… ‘I’m just this poor little guy and there are these downtown elites who hold their noses up at us; they don’t come into our communities.’” He went on to say neighbors didn’t notice “the inconsistencies between Ford’s words and his policy positions” (Toronto Star).
Another citizen said, “I have too many friends who are motivated to support him. I think for them he represents someone who is challenging the system. There’s a misconception that he’s one of us.”
Besides racism, there was corruption. A lawsuit over a conflict of interest nearly destroyed Ford’s career in 2010. According to an integrity commission:
Councillor Rob Ford used the City of Toronto logo, his status as a City Councillor, and City of Toronto resources to solicit funds for a private football foundation he created in his name. Donors to the Councillor’s foundation included lobbyists, clients of lobbyists and a corporation which does business with the City of Toronto.
Ford was also accused of sexism. He once said, “We need more females in politics,” offering to “explain how politics works” over coffee to any woman interested. He once called a female conservative politician a “waste of skin.”
In 2013, politician Sarah Thomson accused Ford of inappropriately touching her.
Ford said in response: “False allegations were made regarding a number of disgusting actions…I can say without hesitation that they are absolutely, completely false.” And, as the accusations arose on International Women’s Day: “What is more surprising is that a woman who has aspired to be a civic leader would cry wolf on a day where we should be celebrating women across the globe.”
He later implied Thomson was crazy, saying, “I don’t know if she’s playing with a full deck” — yet also said some councillors told him “it was a set-up,” seemingly crafting two independent explanations.
Weeks later, Ford was kicked out of a gala event for military personnel (raising funds for Wounded Warriors) because he was intoxicated. He called journalists who broke the story “pathological liars.”
Other Ford scandals were simply bizarre.
Ford was enraged and frightened when a camera crew from a comedy show rushed at him early one morning while Ford was leaving his home for his car (Ford had received death threats earlier). When they blocked his way to the car, Ford called the police — only to leave before the police arrived.
Beyond his DUI conviction (a story he changed several times, from outright denial to half-truths) in 1999, Ford in 2006 went on a drunken rant at a Maple Leafs hockey game that included insults and obscenities directed toward a couple sitting near him. He yelled, “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?” He was kicked out by security, and told the media he was never at the game.
He slandered progressives as “two steps left of Joe Stalin” in 2012.
He blamed bicyclists for their own deaths: “Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes. And, you know, my heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
His take on HIV/AIDs prevention: “Why are we catering to one group with a disease that’s preventable? It’s very preventable. If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS probably. And I don’t know why we’re spending $1.5-million on this.”
He was accused of manhandling a young football player he was coaching.
In mid-2013, Ford was caught on video apparently smoking crack. “I’m f*cking rightwing,” Ford mumbled while high. “Everyone expects me to be rightwing. I’m just supposed to be this great…” He didn’t complete the sentence. He used a slur against homosexuals to describe Canada’s liberal prime minister, and appeared to muttered the phrase “they are just f*cking minorities” at one point.
In an article Tuesday after Ford’s passing, Royson James marveled at “why Rob Ford appealed to so many”:
Gaffes and impolitic indiscretions that would sink mere mortals seemed to conspire to elevate his status…
Rob Ford seemed always to defy the odds. He seemed to live by his own rules. Exploding grenades propelled him into the air, they didn’t shatter his facade. The more he sunk into the morass of personal excess — the alcohol and drugs — the more entrenched, though narrowed, his appeal…
Wherever political scientists study voting phenomenon, they’ll be stretched to explain how a young man from central-north Etobicoke — a simple man trading on the means of his politician-turned-businessman father — could parlay such limited recognizable skills into securing the votes of so many of the most fickle of customers…the crowd at the carnival seemed mesmerized every time…
Ford’s genius — crafted or naturally acquired — is that he connected with the average guy… Citizens so often feel unvalued and invisible; they felt special when Rob Ford came calling. Already cynical about politicians, already certain that the average politician is in it for the money and is probably corrupt, these citizens felt that, for once, a politician was in their corner. And even when Ford’s behaviour became contemptible and evoked apologies from Ford himself, none was needed. They were standing by their guy.