“I’m not even dieting anymore,” Mayor Rob Ford said on his radio show this past Sunday. “It’s gone. It’s water under the bridge.”
And at that moment, many of us cheered the prospect that Rob Ford’s participation in the Cut the Waist Challenge—an absurd chapter in Toronto City Hall’s history—was drawing to a close. No longer would the city’s press gallery gather around the giant circus scale outside the mayor’s office on Monday mornings for the ceremonial weighing of the giant circus mayor. No longer would experienced news reporters spend hours wondering whether the mayor had lost a pound or two, or if he’d even show up at all.
But then the celebration was put on hold temporarily—the mayor went back on the radio Monday to say that he’d do one final weigh-in on June 18. The absurdity lasts a few more weeks.
It’s an odd ritual, for sure, and Ford has never seemed all that enthusiastic about being part of it. His brother Doug came up with the weight-loss challenge idea, reportedly as a distraction from a wave of bad political news. Rob’s missed five of the last nine scheduled weigh-ins, and was surly and tight-lipped during his most recent appearances on the scale.
The members of the press have been equally unenthused about the weekly vigil, which was as humiliating for them as it became for the mayor. They only took part because it was their sole regular chance to actually talk to him. They lived in hope that after the poundage report, they might be lucky enough to have Ford address an actual question of substance, as he did on January 30 when, down six pounds for the week, he delivered his famous “It’s all about subways” rant about the impending city-council transit showdown.
The weekly weigh-in is notable because the mayor is otherwise so invisible. Despite his assurances that “you can’t miss 300 pounds of fun,” he is actually absent in body and voice from much of the city’s business.
Over the weekend, the Toronto Star published its most recent report on the mayor’s schedule, covering November 2011 to March 2012. The itineraries of most public officials in the world—and those of past Toronto mayors—have been released to the press in advance, but Mayor Ford’s is a closely guarded secret. So the Star had to get it after the fact by filing Freedom of Information Act requests. According to the paper, the mayor’s records show him working half as much as he did a year ago, and blowing off appointments with visiting dignitaries: “According to sources that include former and current staff, Ford often does not leave his home until noon.”
As usual, the mayor’s office had no comment for the Star reporter. But Rob and Doug Ford did address the evidence on their radio show, accusing the paper of being a “trashy outlet” staffed by “pathological liars.” They bragged of how the mayor is working morning till night—without specifically refuting anything in the Star story—and the mayor said that he does much more work than his office lets on when they respond to Freedom of Information requests. This may be an admission that he’s flouting the information laws, or just proof that his staff has really sloppy record-keeping habits and fails to record more than half of what he does. Who knows? Unless he responds to this column on his radio show, we’ll never be sure.
That’s because we’re at the point where the only place reporters and the public can expect to hear from the mayor is on his radio program, where he and his brother wing it in a reporter-free, fact-averse propaganda bubble. It’s there that Ford unveils policy proposals, like his new pledge to deliver a property tax hike of less than two per cent. And it’s there that he engages, unchecked, in his wildly premature re-election campaign.
So after one final wait-in for the weigh-in this June, the city and its reporters will have to resort to sitting through commercials for senior citizens’ life insurance in order to hear Ford’s Sunday afternoon pronouncements. What he does with most of the rest of the week is a mystery to the public, the press, and his own official record keepers—which is far more distressing, and significant, than his struggles with the scale.