A totally bungled and failed transit plan didn’t end Mayor Rob Ford’s political career. Neither did erratic driving habits or that time he almost punched a reporter because he was on land near his house. And when he called 911 because there was a comedian in his driveway and then allegedly swore at the operator? Didn’t matter.
Conflict-of-interest allegations were dismissed as a leftist plot. Budget cuts, including threats to close libraries and deep slashes to transit service, even though he guaranteed the public he wouldn’t have to? Barely worth mentioning! Even losing complete control of the political agenda at City Hall—losing virtually every major vote—wasn’t enough to deter his core supporters.
But allegations that he used office staff and resources to help run his high school football team? That may have done it. This could be the beginning of the end of Rob Ford.
Yesterday, Ford left the field at Don Bosco Secondary School in Etobicoke surrounded by his players. They shielded him from the media until he reached his car. Later, the Toronto Sun—a media outlet that has been solidly in Ford’s camp—published a stinging column by Megan Harris that demanded the mayor “smarten up.” The commentary on talk radio turned more negative too. Callers who just last week took pride in supporting the “average guy” mayor through all his personal and professional struggles now seem to be in reconsideration mode.
Football could be the thing that finally kills any lingering chance Rob Ford had at securing a second term in the mayor’s office.
And, weirdly, I’m not sure this issue deserves to hurt him as much as it has. Objectively, this scandal is just not as damning as some of the others that litter Ford’s political history. If you can ignore the disastrous communications strategy tossed off by the mayor’s office and Councillor Doug Ford yesterday, the core of the allegation is simple: the mayor allowed the line between his personal and political life to get blurry.
That’s not an uncommon thing amongst politicians at all levels. Insanely busy schedules make it too easy to look for shortcuts, to deploy staff where they shouldn’t be deployed—to make mistakes. And, with a salaried assistant, it’s often challenging to determine what counts as work time and what counts as volunteer time.
But it’s impossible to look at this in isolation. Were he any other politician, this scandal could be navigable and even defensible. But this is Rob Ford, titan of talk, walloper of waste, conquerer of corruption. He’s the guy who promised he would swoop into City Hall like Superman and put an end to the gravy train. He campaigned—and won—almost entirely on the basis of accusing every other councillor of doing things just like he’s now allegedly done with his football team.
We’ll learn more about the details behind these football allegations in the weeks to come, but the damage is done. Even if this understaffed and dysfunctional mayor’s office manages to cobble together a plausible defence, by allowing this appearance of impropriety and waste to linger they’ve opened the door to the one accusation that can finally derail Ford’s political career. This mayor is a hypocrite.