It’s come to this: “Our mayor’s gangster life? Yawn…”
By Edward Keenan
First the good news: The mayor of Toronto does not appear to have been involved in the murder of Anthony Smith.
According to documents released yesterday featuring police interviews with the mayor’s staff and wiretaps of various gang-investigation subjects, we know that police believe Smith’s shooting to be unrelated. The information in the documents is not tested in court, and represents statements made by some people relying on hearsay and interpretation, as well as transcripts of alleged criminals talking with each other privately. Still, it suggests certain probabilities and possibilities that connect to known events, and among them is the strong suggestion that the mayor’s behaviour seems not to have been the cause or motive for a murder.
Now the bad news: Until now, the question of Mayor Rob Ford’s connection to that murder has remained uncomfortably open, and the possibility of such a connection—direct or indirect—was plausible enough to two of his senior staff members (his one-time chief of staff, Mark Towhey, and Doug Ford’s good friend David Price) felt the need to report the possibility to the police back in May. Police dismiss the connection.
That he probably had no connection to a very public gang execution comes as a relief: This is where the bar is now set for Rob Ford.
That relief, mild as it is, is tempered by more bad news—or confirmation of bad news, anyhow. Through those same police wiretap documents and other legal revelations recently, we have reason to believe the mayor does have some connection, direct or indirect, to plenty of illegal, violent, and otherwise sketchy criminal underworld behaviour.
Kidnapping, for one: The person trying to sell the crack video was “kidnapped” briefly—held against his will for an hour—and had his life threatened because of the video shortly after news of it appeared in Gawker and the Toronto Star last May.
Shooting, for another: The mayor himself and other members of his office staff, according to reports in the documents, had been told that the people holding the video were at 320 Dixon Road, either in apartment 1701 or 1703. On or about the day Doug Ford’s good buddy David Price told mayoral chief of staff Mark Towhey that he was confident the video problem was being taken care of “as they spoke,” Abdullahi Harun, one of the men allegedly trying to sell the video, was shot on the 17th floor of that building.
Home invasion: This data point is older, but we already knew from reports and police confirmations that the house where the video was shot was subject to a home invasion and its inhabitants beaten on the same day that Harun was shot.
Jailhouse stabbing: Again from the older news file, Mohammed Siad, who was one of the men trying to sell the video—the same one who was kidnapped—was stabbed while being held at the Don Jail by gang members angry at his role in bringing the video to light.
Jailhouse beating: Last month, in separate legal proceedings, Justice Paul French ruled that Scott MacIntyre (the mayor’s former brother-in-law) was “viciously attacked and severely beaten”—his leg broken and his teeth knocked out—at the Metro West Detention Centre because he was “a bother to [Mayor] Ford.”
Paying for lost property in drugs: According to the wiretaps, one gang member who had stolen the mayor’s phone while he did drugs and partied all night at what police identify as a “crack house” (and one Price identifies as a former ad-hoc Ford campaign office) talked about how Ford’s friend and occasional driver Sandro Lisi exchanged “1.5 of kush”—police think this means marijuana—for the phone.
Using his influence over the police force as a threat: The wiretaps capture Lisi (before the alleged payment for the phone in marijuana) saying that if the mayor doesn’t get his phone back, he’ll “put heat on Dixon”—a threat that appears to mean using Ford’s authority to have police crack down on gang activity in the Dixon Road area.
Extortion. Of course, lest we forget.
And on and on. One of those in the wiretaps claims he was offered $5,000 and a car for the Ford crack video by the mayor or someone acting on his behalf. Others appear to claim to have photos of the mayor “on a pipe,” doing heroin (or “hezza,” which is a street term used for heroin but is unexplained in the documents), smoking pot, and otherwise in a bad way: “HARUN said that he had Rob FORD smoking on the ‘dugga.’ He said he has so much pictures of Rob FORD doing the hezza,” the wiretap summary says. That he, the city’s chief magistrate, appears to have been in the habit of calling up these alleged gang members and apparent drug dealers to party all night long—even after, if this information is to believed, he was negotiating with them to purchase the crack video—seems almost quaintly innocent in comparison to some of the above (even if Rob Ford himself has firmly and stridently believed—and continues to claim to believe—that such behaviour should be punishable by imprisonment).
So too with the previous documented allegations of him calling a random cab driver a “paki” and mocking his language, calling the football players he coached “fucking minorities,” calling Justin Trudeau a “fag,” sexually harassing and physically assaulting his staff members in a drunken stupor, repeatedly drinking and driving. All allegations, most unproven, but many documented by police—some of them coming from his own staff and others coming from the cops’ eyewitness accounts.
And then there is his normal, public face of crazed belligerence: his well-documented, repeated lies about almost every aspect of this case as it has unfolded, his oral-sex comments about his wife, his physically running down fellow councillors while he and his brother scream at citizens at a council meeting, his telling a radio reporter just this morning that women win football pools because they choose the cutest guys.
WAIT. The mayor was doing an interview about football picks and pools this morning, after the revelations in the police wiretaps broke last night? He gave more than 20 minutes to a Washington, DC sports radio program TODAY? That’s crazy, right? It would seem so for anyone else you might be talking about. It seems like business as usual for Rob Ford.
(One anecdotal measure of how normal assumptions about how politics work don’t apply here: CNN yesterday was running a screen crawl saying the mayor resigned last month, presumably because whoever typed in the crawl assumed a resignation would be so automatic given the news reported back then that it wasn’t even worth looking up.)
We’ve been hearing reports of Ford’s behaviour and associations for so long that we’ve become desensitized. The reports come out, they are disputed and argued about, then later—weeks or months later—confirmed. By the time they are confirmed, and in many cases admitted to, we have the sense that the information is not new, and therefore not shocking or noteworthy: We heard about this months ago, right?
We’ve been down so long it looks like up to us. That’s one of the effects of Rob Ford’s crapshow of a mayoralty: crazy things seem normal. Scandalous things seem tame. Allegations of criminal behaviour and ties to wanton gangland violence seem a bit of a yawn. Kidnapping? Shootings? Beatings? Stabbings? Blackmail? All-night drug binges with gang members in a crack house hours before public events? Ho hum. What’s new here?
Yesterday, I tweeted my relief that the mayor appeared—in the eyes of police, anyway—to not be tied to a murder. Someone immediately responded, accusing me of bad faith, and suggesting these documents show “Rob Ford is clean.” I think that conclusion is a measure of how much dirt we’ve all been covered in by all this news over the past year.
The mayor appears to be a pathologically lying, sexist, racist, homophobic, reckless, drinking-and-driving, drug-abusing thug who hangs out with violent criminal thugs (and counts some of those thugs among his closest friends). His actions set in motion an alleged chain of events that has seen people beaten, shot, and stabbed—and that led his friend to engage in police-alleged extortion. He, as the Toronto Sun complains, opened himself and the office of the mayor of Toronto up as blackmail targets. He has everyone scratching their heads (or not scratching their heads) about why he has not been arrested.
You call that news? He appears to be clear of the murder of Anthony Smith. That seems like the news. Good news, at that, for a change.
But when “Mayor not involved in murder” seems like the most novel angle on the story, that actually isn’t really good news at all.
Bail did the chief
BY DAVID HAINS
Being the chief of staff to a mayor is a difficult position at the best of times, but it’s one that comes with a lot of prestige and future job opportunities. And yet, working alongside Rob Ford has been akin to serving Game of Thrones‘ King Joffrey: the job doesn’t seem all that pleasant and it usually doesn’t last very long. In his less-than-three years as mayor, Ford has hired no less than five chiefs of staff—here’s a look at what each brought to the table and how they’ll be remembered.
Rob Ford’s mayoralty is decadent and depraved
BY EDWARD KEENAN
Noted theologian Douglas Ford, Jr., ventured out of his study today into the pages of the Toronto Sun, where he compared the council scolding of the mayor, his brother Rob Ford, to the passion of Jesus Christ. Those familiar with the biblical stories of the alleged saviour of mankind and with the stories of the admitted crack mayor of Toronto might think the parallels is itself a
delusion requiring substance abuse to envision miracle on the order of the loaves and fishes. But there you have it from the brother-in-chief: let he who is without sin cast the first stone, don’t be “holier than thou,” and thou shalt not make a gentle resolution “urging” the alleged substance-abusing, racial-slur-spewing, sexually harassing, drunk-driving, gangster-consorting, suspected-sex-worker-entertaining, underling-assaulting, absentee mayor to take a short leave of absence and find help expelling his demons.
Let us consult the Gospel of Rob: “Be very careful on [sic] what you write.”
Very well then, let us be now very careful. Aside from his considerable admissions (to drunkenness, to buying illegal drugs within the past two years, to smoking crack in a “drunken stupor,” and—oh, those more innocent times—to reading while driving), the allegations above, and below, have not been proven in court or anywhere else. Instead, they are contained in a police search warrant issued for the arrest of his friend—Sandro Lisi, a.k.a. He Who Shalt Not Be Thrown Under The Bus—and were recorded there based on interviews with his current and former staff members. “I’m not a rat,” His Crack Mayorness said repeatedly yesterday. But apparently many of his staff do not abide by the Office of the Mayor’s “No Snitching” commandment (as foretold by the prophet Chamilionaire). They apparently felt that cooperating with a police investigation and describing the decadence, depravity, and alleged possible criminality of their work environment served a higher purpose.
And there he was himself, this morning, announcing that he would be filing lawsuits against his former staff members and the waiter at the Bier Market who claimed he was “doing lines” on a table in the bar, that his friend Alana is not a prostitute (as staffers told police they suspected she was), and that the Argos would “spank their little TiCats.” Oh, and then he said this: “Olivia Gondek says I wanted to eat her pussy. I’ve never said that in my life to her, I would never do that. I’m happily married—I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
And with that happy image of the sexual buffet table that is the mayoral marriage, we are left to once again recover from smashing our heads against our desks and look at this place we’re all at. This mayoralty is like a window into our civic id: beginning with a policy platform based on selfishness, petty resentment, and idiotic destructiveness; proceeding through a wanton disregard for procedure and ethics; now wallowing in drug abuse, outright and apparently unrelenting crudity, alleged abusiveness, and strong hints of criminality, and all of it underlined by an childish disregard for the safety—or even the dignity—of others. Rob Ford is like a highly contagious sickness that has attached itself to Toronto’s politics. Or maybe more like an addiction.
He looked so harmless, and it even felt kind of good to see him disregard the stuffy formalities and pieties that normally accompany high office. And he offered a quick-fix kind of satisfaction in his sloganeering. Every drunk knows the bender will probably end badly, but as the first few sips settle in and the blurry euphoria takes over your brain, it’s nice to think for a while that you can leave your problems behind as easily as you order another round.
Well, now we have the municipal hangover to end all hangovers. And yesterday city councillors showed they’ve experienced the morning-after syndrome a lot of Torontonians are feeling. They looked in the mirror and asked, in shock, “What the hell have I done.”
It wasn’t the mayor’s longtime political opponents measuring the crucifix of Doug Ford’s imagination. It was his apostles.
Mike Del Grande, Ford’s former budget chief, who voted with the mayor on 100 per cent of items last year, turned his chair away every time the mayor spoke early in the day, and rose to suggest the mayor had run out of do-overs—that his apology and promise of “never again” was used up way back in 2006 after he was ejected from a Leafs’ game. Thus Ford spake, like some child’s idea of playing “gotcha!”: “It has never happened again, at the Air Canada Centre.”
Michael Thompson, who voted with the mayor on 94 per cent of items last year, called out the mayor for hanging around in an alleged crack house (that the ITO says served as a campaign office for Ford in 2010). Ford insisted it is not a crack house, and asked Thompson if he’d been there. “I have no interest in going to that house. I do not use crack cocaine,” Thompson said.
Denzil Minnan-Wong, who voted with the mayor 97 per cent of the time last year and moved the motion to censure the mayor, gave a speech scorching the mayor, and stood up to what he alleged (and photos depict) was physical intimidation from Rob Ford right there during the meeting. And even as he complained, the mayor’s bully of a big brother shouted so long and hard, and refused to come to order for so long, that a recess had to be called.
Even as Ford and his brother—and to some extent their friend-of-convenience Giorgio Mammoliti— tried to strike back, making silly accusations of suspected pot use against other councillors and demanding others respect the mayor’s alleged shame and embarrassment and oh-dear-me-personal-struggle with stress and substances (although Ford himself says, “It wasn’t stress, it was pure stupidity.”)—more revelations were coming in the ITO. Details that seem to show a pattern. And which illustrate this pattern starkly. And a public office, paid with taxpayer’s money, put largely to the use of covering up the mayor’s base animalistic behaviour and catering to his appetites, and to richly rewarding those who did.
Even before this was all revealed in its fullness, council appeared to have had its moment of clarity. They voted to ask him to do the right thing, of course. But they also showed, all day long, in their laughter, and anger, and sadness, that they no longer fear this man.
Because that is the the element that has allowed his impulses to rule this city for so long. Fear. Fear of him and his brother, fear of their political machine, fear of offending the steadfast Ford Nation base. That fear has led us to this point. And seeing where we all are, the fear has evaporated. In 12-step meetings, you’ll often hear people say that the clarity of rock bottom comes from realizing your fear of continuing to allow your addiction to rule you is now greater than your fear of leaving it behind.
This city has problems it needs to deal with, arguments it needs to have, lots of things it needs to figure out. And we aren’t particularly good at it—electoral politics is a crude mechanism for resolving complex debates. But Ford and his toxic politics and even more toxic personal behaviour have made everything worse. It’ll be a while before we can wash the stains of the Rob Ford shitshow off our civic psyche, but we have started taking the steps to allow it to happen. By leaving our fear of Rob Ford behind, and letting our disgust with him replace it.
The Ford brothers keep repeating that he’s apologized, as if that is somehow sufficient to repair the damage he’s caused and inspire confidence in him again. Perhaps that’s the teaching in the Church of Ford they were raised in. But as long as he’s raised the prospect of Christianity, I’ll point out that in the sect of that faith I was raised in, forgiveness follows not just apologies, but acts of penance—a punishment served to atone for wrongdoing. And in civil, secular society we often expect people—as Ford himself so often demands—to accept punishment for the wrong they have done before we allow them to move on.
Jesus, his followers say, was sent to save us from our sins. Despite parallels drawn by his brother, it appears that Rob Ford was more likely sent to punish Toronto for ours. We can only hope that now that the error we’ve made is clear to us, having endured him this long will be penance enough allow us move on.
PHOTO: Steve Russell/Toronto Star
So this happened…
In an impromptu press scrum at City Hall this morning, Rob Ford responded to allegations outlined in recently revealed police documents by claiming he will be seeking legal action against ex-staffers Mark Towhey, Isaac Ransom, and George Christopoulos. He also responded to accusations that he sexually propositioned a female staffer with all the class and decorum we’ve come to expect from him. (Note: audio quality isn’t great—be sure to turn up your volume.)
UPDATE, NOV. 14, 2013, 12:30 P.M.: Rob Ford has said he’s sorry. Well, that line always works.
Nutcase ’06 revisited
BY EDWARD KEENAN
Those just tuning in to the Rob Ford story in the midst of the latest scandal often ask, “How did this guy get popular in the first place?” It was a question I first asked back in July 2006 when Rob Ford was still a city councillor—and this story that ran in EYE WEEKLY at the time found some of the answers, as well as early inklings of his mayoral ambitions. As background for those just catching up, I’m reposting it here:
By the numbers: the other, other Rob Ford video
Exactly one week after police chief Bill Blair confirmed the existence of the infamous Rob Ford crack video first reported in the press last May, and amid suggestions of another, possibly sexually graphic Ford video in circulation, the Toronto Star revealed today yet another digital video capturing our mayor in a compromising position—this time, loudly uttering death threats against an unidentified opponent. While the circumstances surrounding the content of the video are unknown, here’s what we’ve been able to determine:
The personal and political fictions that are Rob Ford’s career
BY EDWARD KEENAN
Anyone with any experience of people suffering from addiction problems would have recognized Rob Ford’s emotional confession and apology yesterday. It had the admission of lies and wrong-doing, the claims to personal humiliation and shame, the self-pity that seems to take precedence over the damage inflicted on others, and the promise that this will never, ever, ever, ever happen again. And then, also familiar, is what it did not have: any specific acceptance of consequences, any concrete actions he’s taking to minimize the damage and ensure the future will be different, any recognition that more than an apology is necessary, or even possible. And finally, it was familiar in the desire to file the whole thing into the archives and boldly move forward to write a glorious new chapter. “The past is the past,” he said, “and we must move forward.”
But for Ford, the past is not the past. In fact, as that famous literary drunk William Faulkner said, it’s not even past. The details of the ongoing police investigation have yet to be fully revealed, and have yet to be even partially addressed. He has said nothing of the racist and homophobic remarks he reportedly uttered on video. He has not addressed the campaign of vicious lies he and his brother directed for months at people whose offence was telling the truth. He still holds the position of public trust he was elected to, a trust he has so repeatedly violated. And if he claims that he will not stop drinking entirely—as he has—then not one person familiar with drinking problems would bet on his troubles being behind him.
If the speech was familiar from addiction-recovery case studies, it was equally so for those who have watched Rob Ford’s entire political career unfold. Well before substance abuse was raised as a problem, we had become accustomed to the pattern of outrageous personal misconduct being revealed only to be met with steadfast denial, followed by confession, and a solemn promise to move forward. The examples are too many to list, but they include drunken abuse of strangers, an arrest in Florida, driving infractions, and ethical breaches pointed out by the integrity commissioner and a provincial court judge. The arc of the stories of Ford’s personal missteps have always had an element of denial—even fiction—and hasty claims to redemption. And there is no line between that personal story and his political story. More so than most politicians, Rob Ford’s political career and persona have always been intensely personal.
His claims as a self-proclaimed champion of the little guy, as someone who would deliver better public service, as someone who could watch every penny and make government more efficient were always based on virtually nothing more than his own credibility. He personally returns phone calls. He would personally insist on seeing no money wasted. He would issue a rash and unexplained “guarantee” that things would be as he said they would be. In virtually every policy area—from cutting the size of government, to improving customer service, to rooting out waste, to delivering subways at no cost to taxpayers—his plan to accomplish his goals amounted to little more than him saying, “you can trust me.” He has done nothing but shatter that claim to our trust, repeatedly.
One of the great tragedies is that so many Toronto voters with legitimate political grievances and understandable resentments did trust him, and thought that the very fact of his existence and presence at City Hall would make his wildest claims to improvement a reality. But as most addicts and their families know too well, saying something and meaning it—and even desperately wanting it to be true—is barely a first step to forming a plan. In the absence of a plan, those firm resolutions can in fact be an obstacle, in as much as they provide the momentary illusion of progress. It is true of the dual promise Ford gave of cutting budgets and improving services; it is true of his plan to curb his drinking and forget the considerable damage he has caused to our politics.
And this all mirrors the large untruth behind Rob Ford’s political career: that somehow a massive global metropolis could be run like a family business, where problems are solved mostly by personal attention and a stern word from the boss. You cannot fix the problems of a complex city and build it for the future by having everyone, everywhere, phone in for a personal audience with the mayor. You cannot change the culture of a bureaucracy by having the son who inherited the place shout a lot or deliver a pep talk. And unlike a family business, a city doesn’t have to indulge the boss’s glaring personal failures and abuses of trust. Because unlike a family business, the city was not created to serve or better the people who govern it. We do not need the boss’s cooperation to move on. His personal and political credibility are in tatters. Toronto is bigger than the flawed man we elected in 2010, and we have our own recovery to get on with.
PHOTO: VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR
Six other times Rob Ford was asked about smoking crack
BY DAVID HAINS
Last week, as a chorus of newspapers, organizations, and political allies called on Rob Ford to step aside, his brother Doug offered a spirited defence of the beleaguered mayor. Three times he called him “the most honest politician in Canada” as a way of burnishing Rob’s credibility.
But Doug was nowhere to be seen earlier this afternoon, when Rob Ford faced a crush of reporters and finally admitted, “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.” He then proceeded to blame the media for the delayed confession, claiming, “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions.”
Well, here are six occasions where Rob Ford could have cleared the air, but chose not to (presumably because no one said the magic word).
Rob Ford admits to crack use
After months of being dogged by the crack-video scandal that he’s refused to elaborate upon, Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted today at a City Hall press conference that he has used the drug in the past whilst in a “drunken stupor.” And he claimed he had never confessed to the act before because reporters supposedly weren’t asking the right questions. Listen to audio of the press conference here:
Photo: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star