So, I actually started writing this entire series as a single blog entry, but as the scandal continued to grow and expand, and Rob Ford continued to run for cover, it grew into something bigger than a single entry could handle. This one is most of my original post, and it’s been fermenting in a .doc file since Tuesday. My original idea was to pretend I was member of Rob Ford’s inner circle, and that he asked my advice on how to respond. I was going to invoke a purely pragmatic, almost Machiavellian perspective on this one – if Rob Ford asked me to help him save his job at any cost, this is what my advice would have been:
If possible, Plan A: Buy the video himself (see Part 2).
If not, Plan B: The minute it comes out, resign and enter treatment.
If not, Plan C: Do absolutely nothing until A or B comes to pass and let his supporters do all the talking.
Obviously, things have changed, and Rob spent far too much time hoping that Plan C would become a successful Plan A, such that he missed the chance to go to Plan B. But here’s how Plan B might have actually worked for him:
If Ford was unable to buy the video for himself and it found its way into the public eye, then his tenure as mayor would have to end instantly. At that point, the only option would be his immediate resignation, coupled with a tearful public apology, the promise to “get clean”, and a level of contrition we haven’t seen from him since Justice Hackland ruled against him in his conflict-of-interest case. Even then, that might not have been the end of Rob Ford.
Picture this: Ford prepares a news conference, tearfully apologizes, and claims that the stress of the job pushed him to seek coping mechanisms like alcohol, weed, cocaine and (eventually) crack. He blames The Star for their crusade against him, and maybe even claims that his desire to meet his targets in the Cut the Waist challenge pushed him to make bad choices (and the fact that he’s wearing the same sweatshirt might add credence to his claim). He talks about how much he wanted to help the city, says he wishes he could have done more without letting the stress get to him, and resigns his position on the spot. He reveals his plan to go into treatment, and promises to come back a better man.
What then? City council remains as dysfunctional as ever, and various councillors start vying to replace him, all with an eye towards the upcoming 2014 election. Doug Holyday seems unlikely to do anything more than handle the position on an interim basis, due to his age and close allegiance to Ford; he doesn’t strike me as someone who wants the job full-time. As the dysfunction spreads, citizens of Toronto grow increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo. City council remains paralyzed; the councillors, without a common enemy to unite against, start fighting amongst themselves, and Doug Ford remains on the sidelines complaining loudly about needing a real leader who can get things done. For the next eighteen months, the transit file remains unresolved, council tries to figure out what to reverse from the previous sessions, and very little actually happens; it’s likely that Council will become more ineffective and fractured than it’s ever been.
Then, Ford comes back from rehab as a changed man – he’s thinner, healthier, more relaxed, and starts doing yoga instead of getting drunk at Leafs games. Maybe he takes a few public speaking lessons during his time away, and hires a top-notch PR team to aid in his reintegration into public life. He swears he’s put his demons behind him, rails against the incompetence in City Council, and promises to make good on his original Stop-The-Gravy-Train agenda. Somehow, the story of redemption and lack of clear alternatives manages to rally Ford Nation once again, and incredulously, Ford manages a political comeback unlike any we’ve ever seen.
Sounds crazy? Marion Barry managed a similar comeback under different circumstances, because his supporters viewed him as a champion of the people. The undercurrent of anger and dissatisfaction that led to Ford’s election in the first place isn’t going to disappear in 18 months, and it’s unlikely that Council will get its act together once Ford is gone. That means it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that Ford might be viewed as the least-bad of a lot of really bad options – which is basically what brought him into power in the first place.
Rob will be sure to claim that he was doing everything without his family’s knowledge, and his allies and brother can stay the course and continue formenting anti-elitist attitudes among the citizens of Toronto, paving the way for a clean-and-reformed Rob (or maybe even Doug) to go into the 2014 election as the champion of the regular joe. Video or no video, those feelings are real, palpable, and powerful enough to bring Rob Ford into office in the first place – there’s no reason to assume they’ll disappear along with Rob.
Of course, it’s probably too late for that. He’s waited too long to take the high road, and things are so bad that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday announced on Friday morning that the Executive Committee is preparing to publicly ask Rob Ford to address the allegations, or step aside. He’s trying to assure us that this is “business as usual” but nobody seems convinced. There’s a feeling, shared by councillor Gary Crawford and many others, that the mayor can’t even represent the City at public events anymore. Typical everyday jobs like ribbon-cutton and kissing babies are essentially impossible for him now, and Ford still hasn’t realized that this is the last straw for many people – it’s not going to just go away.
People seem to love a good redemption story, and Rob Ford has a lot to redeem himself for – but if things continue to get worse after Rob Ford is gone, perhaps people will think he wasn’t the problem after all. And maybe, against all rational explanations, they’ll start to think that a kinder, gentler Rob Ford is actually the solution. It’s already happened once, and history has a very strange way of repeating itself – just ask Marion Barry.