What a newsworthy weekend the mayor had: details of the break-in at his home last year came out, as did details of an apparently drunken visit he made to the Taste of the Danforth, and a mysterious late-night visit he made in March to a west-end jail. Family trouble, booze trouble, criminal associates: It’s retro week here in Fordlandia—all the old stories and debates back for another go at the headlines. One element of the déjà vu is the sense that each of them, as isolated incidents, for a regular person or even a regular mayor, could be easily innocently explained. No big deal. But this is no regular mayor, and the innocent explanations aren’t offered or don’t add up. So, once again, we’re here in Ford’s personal life, confused and kind of troubled, which is sometimes how it must seem to him.
His staff were certainly confused when he failed to show up for his scheduled appearance to open the Taste of the Danforth on Friday night. But some clarity arrived for them a while later when they caught the social-media buzz about an apparently buzzed mayor, alone, spreading his brand of joie de vivre to residents near Danforth and Greenwood, several blocks east of the festival. Videos posted to YouTube by a resident showed Ford slurring and rambling as crowds of people laughed at him and posed with him, before he told them “Let’s go party!” and continued on his merry, halting, posing way before staff and a phalanx of cops arrived to escort him.
The mayor admitted, by Sunday afternoon, that he’d had “a couple beers” and a good time. And we might do well to consider some perspective. He didn’t appear to do anything inappropriate; he didn’t hit anyone or insult anyone or take a leak in the street. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little lit to enjoy a big celebration. Not even for a mayor. In fact, I find it endearing to see an important official letting his guard down and inviting the citizenry to party.
But that’s not actually the concern, is it? Like so many things Fordian, the most visible and discussed aspect of the controversy glosses over the real issues. One: the residents who first spotted him and noting his level of refreshment encountered him standing beside his car, alone, on a side street. How did he get there? In what state? And more pressingly, how did his not-inconspicuous Cadiallac Escalade SUV get there? A drunk mayor might be fun on occasion. A drunk driver, on the other hand, is a criminal. We know his staff weren’t with him—they were at the place he was supposed to be, the official event he was meant to be presiding over.
What are the circumstances that lead to the mayor skipping his duties and then appearing drunk and alone nearby sometime later? That’s a more troubling question, and if current and former members of his staff speaking anonymously to reporters are to be trusted, it’s one that comes up a lot. Which is another concern, for his staff and those who know and trust him. A guy getting drunk at a party is no big deal, unless that guy has a drinking problem that’s caused problems before (even, or maybe especially, if he has vehemently denied it). Unless people close to him claim to never see him take a drink because, presumably, he has a little trouble taking a drink, and therefore never drinks in front of them. Then a guy disappearing and showing up somewhere half in the can is a bit of a different issue. Especially when he shows up with his car.
The context rather changes things. Same with Ford’s other issues of the moment. It’s hard to blame him because his sister’s ex-boyfriend is a violent drug dealer who broke into his house. But when Ford is embroiled in an ongoing scandal involving alleged drug use, the guy shouting “you owe me money” as he threatened to kill the mayor takes on possible different meanings. Some clarification might be in order.
Or take the story of Ford visiting a jail and asking to see an old friend of his locked up on charges of assaulting his parents, a man with ties to the drug trade. No crime in having old friends who are in trouble—it may even be noble to continue visiting them, to maybe let them know you’re there if they want help turning their lives around. But when you’re the mayor of the city, and you show up outside regular visiting hours, and are less than upfront with the staff about the purpose of your visit, then the context changes. Add the public goose chase for a video that allegedly ties you to the drug trade—a scandal with a body count attached—and more sinister possibilities need to be considered.
Of course, the context Ford’s dwindling band of vocal supporters would like you to consider is the liberal media downtown elites cackling into their lattes as they invent all this from whole cloth because they can’t accept that he won the election. They think those of us complaining about this are focussed on opposing his policies.
But this isn’t about policy—it’s about the mayor’s basic personal fitness for the job. Even the Toronto Sun, a paper that supports Ford’s agenda, has begun regularly complaining about the sideshow that he brings with him.
In isolation, I’d rather be talking about policy than Ford’s drinking or family or friends. But I don’t write about politics in isolation—context is important. And the context in Toronto right now is that Ford’s tangled web of personal issues is a constant concern—for his friends, his staff, and the citizens he’s supposed to represent and lead.