TIME Media

Don’t Count Out Teflon Ford Just Yet

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reacts on the podium during his campaign launch party in Toronto
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reacts on the podium during his campaign launch party in Toronto in this file photo taken April 17, 2014. Mark Blinch —Reuters

The Toronto mayor's former press secretary acknowledges the self-destructive behavior of the embattled politician, but says people underestimate him. Ford has beat the odds before, she writes, and if anyone can bounce back, it's him

When he was elected mayor in 2010, it was clear that Rob Ford was not a “normal guy.” But having worked as his Director of Communications and Press Secretary from June 2010 to December 2011, even I could not have predicted how unconventional his lifestyle has turned out to be.

As I have said many times since leaving the mayor’s office to join the Toronto Sun, it was bad, but nothing like what we see unfolding before the world now.

Ford has had his enemies in Toronto politics and the media since the day he entered municipal office. Much of the coverage of Ford has been over the top, with media camped out in front of his office, his home and even showing up at his cottage.

However, he has given his critics fuel for their fire, and all current wounds are self-inflicted. There is really no comparison to the coverage that Rob Ford has received, but that’s because there is only one Rob Ford.

Yet, when Torontonians finally got a real glimpse of who Ford really is, they weren’t completely shocked, and for those who loved him, they didn’t seem to care.

Ford has been consistently polling second in a crowded field for this year’s municipal election. With support across the political spectrum and a loyal following, mostly suburban and affectionately known as “Ford Nation,” it has not been out of reach that progressive Toronto would re-elect Ford.

This week, more audio and video recordings of the mayor surfaced. In the video, Ford is holding what appears to be a crack pipe in his sister’s basement, all while wearing a nearly perfect Windsor knot. The audio was of a very boozy night out at a local watering hole filled with racist, sexist and off-color commentary.

Ford has finally admitted that he cannot continue as mayor and has gone to “get help” at rehab.

It is too early to know the impact of both the latest recordings and Ford’s decision to seek treatment. However, it is not too early to know that if anyone can bounce back from a crisis like this, it is the Teflon Ford.

Ford was never supposed to be elected Mayor of Toronto, a liberal city. However, Toronto is not the same city it was 20 years ago and Ford managed to grasp the attention of a growing class of anti-tax, property-owning suburbanites.

Prior to being mayor, Ford was a right-leaning suburban city council member and harsh critic of his mayoral predecessor, David Miller. Miller was a tax-and-spend, left-leaning downtown liberal. Ford built his reputation as a plain-speaking maverick, but was a lightning rod for being crude, offensive and nasty instigator of altercations with his colleagues. There were drunken stupor incidents even then.

When Ford had his chance to jump into the mayor’s race, he presented a penny-pinching campaign platform that differed wildly from his front-runner left-leaning opponent.

Ford, slowly but surely, chipped away at his opponent’s lead, pointing to massive financial waste in the smallest figures and simplest terms. He pledged to end David Miller’s “gravy train” and elitist “war on cars” and new subway lines for alienated suburbs. Serious observers accused him of missing the forest for the trees, but voters understood his message; they felt his anger; they ate it up.

His strategy worked, he increased turnout and ran huge margins in suburban districts. The “300 pounds of fun” obnoxious councillor from the suburbs was elected mayor with more than 47% of the vote, with his nearest rival in the race trailing at 36%.

Ford’s election-savvy and “helluva guy” reputation could eclipse this latest distasteful flare-up, but it will be a challenge. The best bet is that he opts for proper treatment and recovery time, and sits this election out. However, as we have seen for his entire political career, the regular rules don’t apply to Ford. If anyone can recover, and that is a big “if,” the constantly underestimated Ford is that candidate.

Adrienne Batra is the Comment Editor at the Toronto Sun, host of Straight Talk on Sun News Network and Rob Ford’s former Press Secretary.

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