Let’s make it clear right now: the Mayor of Toronto hates Nazis. That’s not even up for debate. It’s unequivocal.
Which is why it’s so unbelievable that Rob Ford’s office found themselves playing defence yesterday as a photograph depicting the mayor and a uniformed neo-Nazi was passed around the internet. Ultimately, the whole thing proved rather benign. The photo was clearly taken at the mayor’s annual New Year’s Levee, a City Hall event where any schmo, Nazi or not, can get his or her picture taken with the mayor.
Ford’s later one-on-one meeting with the same neo-Nazi was a bit harder to explain—they talked transit—but still stands as nothing but an unfortunate by-product of the mayor’s zeal for constituency work. Handing out business cards and meeting with people is what he does best.
Still, in the wake of Ford’s accidental Nazi encounter, Toronto has to be wondering if there’s a limit to the number of ridiculous incidents a mayor can rack up over a single term. Since he first became a main stage politician in Toronto, Rob Ford has weathered enough scandals and grabbed enough headlines to fill two or three political careers.
A quick list: in June 2010, after attempting to publicly make amends with the gay community, Ford was recorded telling a man that he’d help him get oxycontin—even suggesting they could get it off the street. Later that summer, he lied about a 1999 marijuana charge, before explaining that he had simply forgotten about the pot because he had also been hit with a DUI in the same incident.
Once elected, the hits kept coming. He was accused of flipping off a kid and her mom because they warned him about talking on his cellphone while driving. He responded to a This Hour Has 22 Minutes gag by calling 911, turning what was supposed to be a quick TV comedy bit into a bizarre debate about whether Ford used aggressive profanity when talking to the emergency operator—and discussion about whether the mayor needs security. We got a repeat of that earlier this year, when Ford stormed up to a Toronto Star reporter who was working on a story relating to land near the mayor’s house. The mayor charged at the guy and stole his cellphone.
And then, of course, the Nazi thing happened. Another one for the list.
Those are only some of the higher-profile incidents. There’s also a grab bag of 911 calls, foot-in-mouth statements, unhinged policy proposals, dumb Doug Ford stunts, vehicular offences, stupid radio spots and constant Pride snubs. And we’re not even halfway through this four year term.
For the most part, Ford’s headline-grabbers serve as unfortunate distractions. Yesterday’s story, for example, broke at the same time other councillors were working hard to reverse an unintended cut to the city’s Hardship Fund—something that seniors, the disabled and other low-income citizens rely on to help cover medical expenses. They succeeded in turning a bad news story into a good one when the fund was given a reprieve. But that tale simply can’t compete with neo-Nazis.
I do have some sympathy for the problem-plagued mayor. Ford certainly doesn’t intend to find himself mired in this kind of controversy. Sometimes, as was the case of the Nazi photograph, the scandals are brought about by ideological opponents who sink to shameless and dull lows to attack the mayor. More often, it’s Ford’s own good intentions or his tremendous capacity for passion—that sometimes gives way to anger—that lead him to scandal.
Whatever the cause, it’s been a weird ride for Rob Ford and there’s no sign things are going to slow down. With the Nazi incident behind us, I’m almost afraid to ask: can this mayoralty get any weirder?