By EDWARD KEENAN
There was a time not so long ago, when Doug Ford being at City Hall was thought to be a huge asset to his brother Rob. He was thought to be “the smart one,” “the real mayor”; I even called him the boss. At the very least, he was thought to be a moderating influence on off-the-rails Robbie, someone who could have civil conversation with opponents, someone used to negotiating. Current deputy mayor Doug Holyday waited until late in the 2010 election campaign to endorse Rob Ford for mayor but, when he did endorse him, he said that the presence of Doug Ford at his brother’s side was what convinced him it would work out okay. And at the very least, people thought he was a protector of his younger brother, someone the mayor would listen to and who would lead him away from train wrecks.
Oh, how wrong we all were.
Chris Selley did a good job in the National Post yesterday, while warning off Tim Hudak, of summing up many of Doug’s revealed flaws:
I assume recent days have driven the point home: Doug Ford will say absolutely anything that comes into his head, without a moment’s thought to tact, let alone fact. [...] this is a man for whom life seems to be essentially performance art.
And the performance seems to be essentially one of bullying and intimidation. A good example of the general attitude was displayed in the incident where he got into a shouting match with a bike courier. After the fact, as an elected official, when he’d cooled off and had time to think about what to say about the whole thing, the man with a black belt said that being a politician is the only thing that kept him from kicking the guy’s ass. His brother Rob chimed in to vouch for that, saying, “There’d be one less courier because, trust me, Doug has been a kickboxer 10 years … I guarantee you that guy would have been history in about two seconds.” That tells you something about Doug’s style, and about how little brother Rob perceives and responds to that style.
You could see that on display last weekend: When the Globe and Mail published a report claiming that 10 anonymous sources had told them Doug ran a hashish empire as a young man in the 1980s, Doug’s “fight” mechanism kicked in—unlike his little brother, he seems to have no “flight” instinct. As he made the rounds of TV and radio talk shows, his perfectly PR-101 impulse to get out and publicly deny the allegation was overshadowed by his hotheaded impulse to turn the accusations against journalists and other councillors, to change the subject in anger, to threaten and intimidate. At one point, while being interviewed by Stephen LeDrew on CP24, he turned to face the camera like a professional wrestler, his hair slicked back, a gold chain around his neck, and addressed Globe editor John Stackhouse, threatening to do an “investigation” on him and asking how he’d like it if Doug made his children cry. That appears to be the kind of smarts Doug brings to every situation. Confront. Attack. Repeat.
And this has a big influence on his brother. Rob’s instincts, long observation has shown, is to bluster a lot, lie when confronted with a damaging allegation, and then back up when pressed—trying sometimes to explain things away as no big deal, other times apologizing and trying to move on in his own bumbling way. But Selley, in his piece above, gives a great example of how when Rob was asked a question on the radio, he answered it with the talking-point phrase he’d obviously prepared. He’d hung up on the caller already, so they could easily have moved on. But Doug seized the chance to—out of nowhere—accuse the caller of being a racist, and outline a theory of how that was the case, and make his own racially loaded comments about how Rob poses with black guys all the time “with their hats on and their little funny signs.” And what did Rob do? As Selley points out, Rob fed off of his big brother’s tirade, chipping in to lament the caller’s racism.
This is a personal dynamic that almost everyone close to City Hall thinks has cost the mayor a lot politically: Doug Ford went out with a crazy Portlands scheme that started the internal rebellion against Ford. Doug Ford went off script threatening to close libraries and badmouthing Margaret Atwood, inspiring an avalanche of public opposition. Doug Ford’s meddling and advice, they say, cost the mayor control of the transit file in a city where transit is the largest item in the city’s portfolio.
And we’ve seen it in personal ways—Doug goaded Rob into the silly weight-loss challenge that turned into a weekly ritual of humiliation for the mayor. Doug is the one who publicly mocks Ford for his weight. You get the impression that Rob is used to being bullied by this older brother and best friend he loves and trusts so much.
And that family psychodrama takes a turn with the Globe‘s explosive report, which portrays Doug and other brother Randy all those years ago as involved in serious, questionable business, while Rob runs his laps around the track all alone trying to focus on football. After they finished school, Randy was running the family label operation in Toronto, Doug was off to Chicago to build it into an international concern, and Rob, well, as the Globe story has someone putting it, “Robbie just did not have the passion for labels.” So Rob runs for city council, and wins, and has his own little fiefdom where he is the bigtime Ford. But when he ran for mayor, Doug decided to tag along…
I think the “poor Rob” narrative can be way overblown—by Doug as much as by anyone. But in as much as both men have made bullying and ranting a part of their political style, Rob comes off as the kind of bully who acts from the insecurity of being overshadowed and mocked and wanting to show all those he fears, once and for all, that he’ll get the last laugh, while Doug always strikes me as someone who has been an aggressor in every situation he’s ever encountered in his life. And Doug both overshadows his little brother and goads him to be more aggressive himself. This is a bit of psychology from a distance there, I admit, since Doug and I have barely ever spoken and I haven’t talked to Rob Ford outside of a scrum since he was elected mayor.
That has all been playing out at City Hall ever since Doug arrived, but we’re starting to see the circle close in here, now. Rob’s campaign for mayor was run by ideological conservative politicos attracted to his populist appeal: Mark Towhey, Nick Kouvalis, Adrienne Batra. For the first part of his term, those were the people running his office, too. When Kouvalis left as chief of staff, seasoned pro Amir Remtulla took over. When he left (possibly because of run-ins with Doug), Towhey took over. When Batra left as press secretary, George Christopoulos, a veteran of the police department’s PR staff, came in.
But now all of those people are gone. And who’s moved in?
Well, there are an assortment of people who’ve played football under Rob Ford, who are in their early 20s.
And there are Doug’s guys: Dave Price, who was Doug Ford’s campaign manager and, according to the Globe story, his business partner in the questionable activities of their high-school days. (The only person who’s ever answered a question about what Price does or why he got the job is Doug, who said, “You can’t teach loyalty.”) According to a Star report, when Towhey sent Price to help Rob the morning after the crack scandal broke, Price went not directly to Rob’s house, but instead made a stop on the way at Mama Ford’s. Which raises the question, loyalty to whom?
Who else? Well, there’s new press secretary Amin Massoudi—who had worked on Rob’s campaign before, reportedly, being canned by Kouvalis, and then served as Doug Ford’s executive assistant until this week. He’s taken the mayor’s previously innocuous Twitter account in a more politically direct—one might say Doug-like—direction. The new crowd has no loyalty or obvious political objective except to Team Ford, and especially to Doug.
Which means the mayor is no longer getting advice from anyone outside the Ford family inner circle—and no real advice that doesn’t come from people close to Doug—with the exception of acting Chief of Staff Earl Provost, who is a Liberal, and rumoured to be looking at the exits.
All of which means that whatever objective advice he was getting from political professionals—even if he was never acting on it—is pretty much gone. And what remains are Dougie’s people, helping Rob out in the dubious way we’ve come to see Doug always helps his little brother out. Which means at a time when a lot of people would be expecting Rob to consider resigning for his own good, or the good of the city, or the good of his larger political project—or even just opening up a bit, changing his strategy to try to deal with this at all—we can likely expect something else, something more in line with Doug’s own personal playbook. Confront. Attack. Repeat.
PHOTO: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star