Let’s recap the past few weeks in the life of Mayor Rob Ford. He made yet another public appearance at a church, stated unequivocally for the first time that he has no interest in attending Pride, attempted to remove a rainbow flag from outside city hall, launched a YouTube show, mingled with club-goers downtown and gave a long interview to a top 40 radio station.
All this has people asking: is this part of Ford’s re-election strategy? And if it is, then what exactly does that strategy entail? Is he courting social conservatives? Taking a hard line for the homophobes? Looking to make an Obamaesque breakthrough with the youth? Is the idea to tap a real but silent pool of voters that love church, viral videos, being heterosexual and Katy Perry?
It’s hard to make sense of it, though people have tried. I’m not sure the effort is worth it. Taking Occam’s Razor to the issue, the simplest explanation is that Ford’s strategy is hard to pin down because he doesn’t really have a strategy. He’s just doing the things he wants to do and saying the things he wants to say. His only strategy is just going out there and being Rob Ford.
This isn’t an entirely new plan. Ford has always been a guy driven mostly by impulse. But those around him were always trying to be strategic. During the 2010 election, Nick Kouvalis was all about strategy. So was Adrienne Batra, Ford’s first press secretary, both during the election and for a year afterwards. The same goes for Mark Towhey, George Christopoulos, Isaac Ransom, Earl Provost and a handful of other senior Ford veterans.
But all those people are gone now, chased away by scandal. Some of them are publicly supporting Ford opponents. These days, Ford is working with a skeleton crew, most of whom lack any real political experience. He’s weeks into a campaign with no named campaign staffers beyond his brother. While other candidates and would-be candidates are locking down Toronto’s top strategists, Ford doesn’t appear to have any of them. So it’s not hard to understand why most conventions of organized campaign strategy have been tossed out the window in favour of just letting Ford be Ford.
We saw this most clearly with the Pride question. In the past, the Ford strategy has been to deflect. Instead of just saying he’s not interested in attending Pride events, the mayor clung to an excuse. He couldn’t go to Pride, he’d say again and again, because he had to go to his cottage. But now he’s ditched that and just said what many had assumed all along: he’s not going because he doesn’t want to go.
There was nothing strategic about that answer. A focus group of Ford supporters held less than a year after the 2010 election suggested that Ford’s Pride snub hurt a lot of his support. Doubling down on his perceived homophobia doesn’t do anything to help expand his base beyond the hardcore loyalists. And announcing that you plan to basically ignore an event that will create huge amounts of economic activity doesn’t seem destined to endear him to the business community.
But Rob Ford doesn’t care, because he’s just being Rob Ford. Take him or leave him.
Could this approach actually be effective? I’ve never given Ford great odds of winning re-election — and I still don’t — but it’s worth pointing out that there’s a certain appeal in a candidate casting off convention and just saying what they think. In an era where so much of politics is dominated by elected officials who can speak (or type) endlessly without giving you a straight answer, and where every stance on a position seems to be ever-so-carefully crafted in political back rooms, it’s refreshing to see a guy just flat out say what he thinks — even if that guy is Rob Ford.
Other candidates planning to jump into this race could learn from that.