Aspiring candidates for Toronto’s highest municipal office could learn a thing or two from Mayor Rob Ford.
And I’m not just talking about the obvious. Sure, Ford is all kinds of cautionary tale: A reminder that public officials probably shouldn’t smoke crack, lie about it, become the subject of a police investigation, lose their powers and then try to wipe the slate clean by going to the gym. But focusing on Ford’s escapades means ignoring that the mayor still has some game when it comes to campaigning.
There are pages from the Ford campaign playbook that his opponents need to understand — and steal.
Start with this one: He speaks plainly. Sure, he often says offensive things, but stack Ford’s plain-spokenness up against your average politician who talks for hours without taking a firm position on any issue and Ford’s candour starts to look refreshing.
Then there’s the matter of the small stuff. I wrote about how important neighbourhood issues are to municipal politics a few weeks back. Ford is the king of that kind of small stuff — responding to constituent complaints all across the city.
Objectively, Ford’s strategy is actually pretty terrible for Toronto. In an ideal world, the mayor would be spending his time working to implement policy that reduces the number of issues Torontonians are seeing across the board. But instead Ford just takes a whack-a-mole approach to things. While he’s personally dragging senior city staff off to a corner of the city to hammer down a problem, six more problems are popping up somewhere else. He’ll never get ahead.
But still, I’ve talked to dozens of people this term who had Ford come to their house to help with a problematic fence or a fallen tree. They won’t ever forget it. They’ll vote for him for decades to come. Ford’s small-scale personal approach is lousy governance, but it’s good politics.
Speaking of good politics, the last move Ford opponents should steal from his campaign playbook may seem like an obvious one, but it’s the most important: They need to remember just how big and diverse this city is.
It’s easy to impress journalists like me with a policy announcement. And it’s pretty easy to get Bay Streeters and policy wonks on side. It’s harder to make someone who has always been marginalized feel like you actually care about them.
Ford’s election came after he spiked voter turnout by more than 10 points over previous elections. He inspired people. People who had previously felt frustrated by politics and ignored by politicians. Three years later, after all the scandals, it’s easy to forget that — and way too easy to forget the people he was able to reach.