What if the mayor of a major city turned out to be a crazy, crack smoking alcoholic – Well not too long ago that very thing happened, and it’s an amazing story – a story of drunken rants, high profile police investigations, and an entire city becoming a laughing stock. That city was Toronto, and the mayor was Rob Ford.

Birth of a Legend

Like so many future drug users, Robert Ford was born in the 1960s. But unlike most, he was born into a prominent family. Seven years before his birth, Robert’s father, Doug Ford, co-founded Deco Labels And Tags – a company that still exists, and today has an annual revenue of 100 million dollars. Even in Canadian dollars that’s a lot of money – enough to buy significant political influence, as it would later turn out. The company specialise in creating labels, the type you see on consumer goods. That may sound boring but I assure you, it is indeed very boring. And maybe that’s why so many members of the Ford family are drawn to politics – in comparison to plastic labels, literally anything seems exciting.

When it comes to politics, the family patriarch again led the way. In 1995 Doug Ford was elected to the Provincial Parliament of Ontario, a position he would hold until his constituency was abolished in 1999. This was the peak of his own political career, but just one year later, his youngest son would take up the torch. Despite dreaming of becoming a professional American football player, Rob Ford took a sales job in the label company, and in the year 2000 was elected to the Toronto city Council. No one knew it at the time, but this was the beginning of a legendary career. His older brother, Doug Jr, was heading a branch of the family business in Chicago, leading it to bring in 11 million dollars in annual revenue. Then in 2002 their father retired, and Doug Jr became president of Deco Labels.

The Councillor

Meanwhile, Rob Ford was already causing controversy. When the city council opened a debate on whether to expand homeless shelters across Toronto, he was outraged. Instead of a public debate on the issue, he suggested they have a public lynching. This was just one of the wild comments he regularly made, often attacking other councillors or members of the media – like when he called a fellow councillor a waste of skin. Even when trying to say nice things he made it controversial. At one point he tried to praise the Asian community for their work ethic, saying “Those Oriental people work like dogs”. Considering the ward he represented was 53 percent immigrant, he might have been more careful, but that’s just who Rob Ford was. –

Outside of council meetings he was just as entertaining. Sometimes he would get drunk at hockey games and shout at other fans until security removed him. So already, he was the most entertaining politician in Canada, while still being a city council member. I think that’s why he kept winning re-election – but with each election his vote share would fall. His decline in popularity might be partly to do with a less funny incident that happened in 2008.

On the 26th of March he was arrested for domestic assault and making death threats. It was believed his wife was the one who called police, but little detail of the incident is known. No one gave evidence against Ford, and the charges were later dropped. For many politicians this kind of thing would ruin their career, true or not. So when Rob Ford announced his intent to run for mayor of Toronto, he was largely dismissed as having no chance. Most viewed him as a fringe candidate – but spoiler alert, he won.

The Mayor

The other candidates were polished and professional. Among them were then current deputy mayor of the city, and a former deputy premier of Ontario. These were serious candidates. Compared to them he was a figure of fun. But he knew something they didn’t. Voters at the time were sick of those polished political types, and a keys to office now lay in populism, at least for a brief moment. So he got to work presenting himself as a man of the people, calling out the corruption of normal politics. To counter this, his opponents would simply bring up one of his numerous scandals. But every time they did so, it seemed to backfire, gaining him more publicity and making people think he wasn’t like all the other political figures. His popularity once jumped by 10 percent when it came to light he had a DUI.

This is another way his rise to power foreshadowed the Trump campaign 6 years later. Not everybody likes Rob Ford, but those who did, bloody loved him. So by the time of the election in October of 2010, he had more than enough support to win, coming in first place, with 47 percent of the vote. Somehow, the one city councillor in Toronto that nobody took seriously, who probably had more scandals than all the other combined, was elected mayor of the entire city – and as such, millions of people were now under his administration. For the first couple of years of his mayoralty it was relatively normal, at least when it came to the governorship of Toronto – outside of office hours, he was constantly made fun of.

The Scandal

All kinds of videos of him went viral, especially as he would often get drunk and stumble around in public. Sometimes he would get so drunk he’d be asked to leave charity events. But voters did not seem to mind that much, and it would be nothing compared to what was yet to come

In early 2013, rumour spread that a video existed showing the mayor of Toronto smoking crack. The website Gawker was even raising money to try and buy the footage. Significant funds were raised and the campaign went viral – too viral, as the crack peddlers got scared off by all the media attention. They broke off contact, and it seemed like the video would never again re-emerge. But even without the actual footage, rumour alone was enough to impact the mayors career. The city was immediately divided. Many were convinced – not that it would take much to convince them their erratic mayor was a drug user – but his supporters, were understandably more sceptical.

They rightly pointed out there was no evidence that Rob Ford had anything to do with crack, or any other drug. To them, it was nothing more than a malicious lie told to undermine the mayor. They were in for a rude awakening. Suddenly, a photograph emerged showing Rob Ford smiling beside known Toronto gang members. And honestly, that alone was pretty damming. Even people inclined to support him were like… why is the mayor hanging around with Dope Boys??

The image was everywhere. On all the news, American talk shows, and most of all on Twitter thanks to the pure meme juice contained within it. It might not have been absolute proof, but at the very least it was really weird.

The Fallout

There were big protests, people in his administration resigned, and the entire city was just baffled. But Rob Ford rose to the challenge, never knowing when to keep his mouth shut. Calling an urgent press conference, he publicly denied using crack. But there was evidence – he just didn’t know it yet. Frist, Toronto police closed in on Sandro Lisi, a close friend and personal driver for Rob Ford. On October 1st he was arrested on suspicion of trafficking cannabis. The charges would eventually be dropped, but for the already embattled mayor, well it didn’t exactly help.

Maybe he was still in the habit of denial from the ongoing scandal, because he denied knowing, or even having met Lisi. It was a demonstrable lie, but a funny one, so who really cares. By the end of October police had also retrieved the infamous video tape, having conducted a raid on gang territory. Knowing the walls were closing in on him, Ford panicked. He refused to speak to the media – sometimes literally running away from them. But his brother Doug Ford, who by now was on the Toronto city council, demanded police release the footage. Apparently he believed the footage would be ambiguous enough to muddy the waters.

Unfortunately for him, the footage was explicit – clearly showing Ford smoking crack while a woman off camera rants about Justin Treaudeu. And while it was not shown publicly until after his retirement, the people of Toronto knew the truth. Their mayor was a crack smoker. It was over – or at least it should have been. Like every great politician Rob Ford outright refused to resign. He wasn’t going to leave office without a fight, crack or no crack. It was the best thing ever.

Desperate Measures

Everywhere he went angry residents shouted at him to resign – to the point you actually start to feel bad for him. In desperation, he admitted smoking crack, but claimed to have no memory of it as he was blackout drunk. He denied being addicted to drugs, stating it was a one time thing. It honestly felt like the whole world was against him. The city council asked him to resign, and people in his social circle were constantly being arrested. It was bad, and as the pressure of the situation grew, Rob Ford became even less measured. I guess he decided the public had already made up their mind about him, so it didn’t matter what outlandish thing he said. Things were not going well, and the people of Toronto were not happy… they were entertained, but not happy.

Unable to force him from office, the city council cut the mayors budget, hoping to put a leash on him recklessness. They also reduced his powers, giving him little to actually do. Meanwhile, he was flailing in the public eye. He even appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, most people seeing him more as a celebrity than a politician. So in April of 2014 he pulled the ultimate celebrity cheat code, checking-in to rehab. For two months he underwent treatment, leaving mayoral duties to his deputy – and for two months a sense of normality returned to Toronto… in other words it was suddenly boring. On ford being discharged, people expected it to be fun again But comedy turned to tragedy when it was announced he had cancer.

Tragedy Strikes

The media circus died up and Ford largely withdrew from public life. Although he did run for his old seat on the city council, somehow winning it back with 58% of the vote. His goal was to focus on recovery and possibly launch a new mayoral campaign in 2018. But sadly, he would die too soon. As time went by his condition worsened, and in early 2016 he passed away.

And so the story of Canada’s most entertaining politician came to an end – the story of a man born to be a comedian, yet. Rob Ford’s legacy is a mixed one. I know it’s not great to have a man like him in power, but I don’t think he was a bad person, just an unstable one. And I do think the media treated him too harshly.

In fact, he was chaotic even before going into politics. Just one of many stories illustrating this is when he got arrested in Florida. Pulled over while driving because his lights were off, he immediately threw his hands in the air and said “go ahead, take me to jail!”. He then took out all his money and threw it on the ground for some reason.

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