Toronto’s mayor is not an American—thank heavens
Canada’s own Tea Party problem, eh?
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2013 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK, near Canada
In the United States—home to so many of the world’s determinedly stupid and obnoxious public officials—we may now look north of the continental border to satisfy our hearty appetite for lurid political amusement. This past week, we were transfixed by the shenanigans of Toronto’s roly-poly, ham-faced Mayor Rob Ford, a drunkard and confessed smoker of crack cocaine, host of soirées attended by gangsters and alleged prostitutes, and—of course—an wannabe star of the oxymoronic entertainment genre known as “reality television.” I have lost count of the number of times a friend of mine here in New York has said of Canada’s porcine pol, “For once, it’s not one of our American buffoons—thank heavens.”
Rob Ford was elected three years ago, fair and square and resoundingly. This provokes troubling questions, given the sleek and sophisticated image of Canada’s largest city, center of the nation’s art and commerce. As a schoolteacher of mine used to ask, back in my short-pants days, “And what may we learn from this, Tommy?”
A quartet of answers springs to mind: democracy is a dubious proposition; ignorance and resentment are mighty forces, always lurking on the dark side of humanity’s moon; often, voters would sooner chortle than think; and poor Canada apparently has an American-style Tea Party problem. History reminds us, repeatedly, of how easy it is for firebrands and fanatics to organize the disgruntled.
Schadenfreude may comfort some Americans; we are quite aware of the whole world watching us as we flounder through a particularly idiotic era of our own national life, and it somewhat refreshing to see ridiculous behavior elsewhere. But most Americans, certainly myself, are saddened to see Canada dancing in the flashy disco lights of asininity.
Mr. Ford’s three older siblings—especially sister Kathy—are as sadly entertaining as the mayor himself. Brother Doug Ford, a powerful member of the Toronto City Council, has been identified by the internationally respected Globe & Mail newspaper as a kingpin of illicit hashish commerce in the 1980s, in alliance with a seldom-mentioned Ford lad seldom—Randy, once arrested by police in connection with a drug-related kidnapping. The Globe’s investigative report of last May said Sister Kathy, an admitted former drug addict of florid romantic history, is “linked to a number of bizarre, violent, and sensational incidents,” such as:
• Last year, the mayor of a Toronto suburb received death threats, resulting in the arrest of Kathy Ford’s long-time boyfriend, Scott McIntyre, on the charge of attempted murder. Mr. McIntyre pleaded guilty to a lesser charge; likewise, he eluded severest legal consequence upon his arrest in 2005 for shooting Kathy in the face with a handgun.
• Michael Kiklas of the Canadian chapter of the racist Ku Klux Klan—another of Ms. Ford’s beaux—was shot to death in 1998. The killer was Kathy Ford’s ex-husband, Ennio Stirpe, a fellow drug addict.
• Among Ms. Ford’s chums in Toronto’s anti-Semitic set was Wolfgang Dröge, the German-born founder of Canada’s neo-Nazi “Heritage Front.” In 2005, the year Ms. Ford was herself a victim of gunplay, Herr Dröge was slain in his suburban Toronto apartment in 2005 by a pistol-packing acquaintance jonesing for cocaine.
Councillor Doug Ford, chief defender of his crack-smoking drunkard of a brother, told Canadian media that the Globe & Mail account of his charming family was “disgusting,” amounting to “a bunch of sleazy, sleazy journalism.”
But as columnist Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star newspaper wrote last Tuesday, “It’s hard to say which, between the Ford brothers, is the more delusional and repugnant…They are twin blobs of disgrace and disrepute, a folie a deux that has taken the entire city hostage to their pathology.”
Gutter Gott! How has such come to pass in the über civil cosmopolis of Toronto? How on Earth did the vulgarian Fords—a mass of obesity and chutzpah one finds in the grotty backwaters of urban America—rise to electoral prominence in “Toronto the Good,” a sobriquet coined by Mayor William Holmes Howland (1844-1893) to describe the gracious lakeside city as a bastion of Victorian sensibility, one that lasted far into the twentieth century.
Save for the no-talent teenager Justin Bieber and treacly Québécois warbler Céline Dion, most Americans admire virtually all else canadien: the sheltering of African slaves escaped from Southern plantations during the vilest chapter of U.S. history; legal sanctuary given to conscription-age Americans righteously opposed to war in Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s; public funding of universal health insurance; nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage; and—no small thing, this—those handsome red uniforms worn by the dashing officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
O, Canada! Whither thou goest?
For answers, let us turn to my friend Thomas Markowitz.
He enjoys calling himself “Toronto Tom,” an apt moniker for a quintessential Canadian—and probably the single incidence of personal boast. My friend is wry and soft-spoken, self-effacing, erudite, professionally accomplished as president of his own environmental and energy consultancy, bilingual (English and French), faultlessly polite, a violinist of note, devoted to bicycling, and dutiful in his relationships with family and friends. (Last year, he sat with me for hours in my apartment here in New York as I recuperated from surgery, with the aid of botanicals that blotted both my pain and verbal coherence. The visit was undoubtedly an endurance test for my friend; for me, it was a gentleman’s kindness I shall not forget.)
“We live in an age of tribal allegiances and hostilities,” Mr. Markowitz told me in a telephone interview. “We’re not living back in the 1950s when the people of Toronto rallied around big ideas, and big projects. Today, some are voting their prejudices and not their common sense. They feel persecuted to some extent. They’re mistrustful of government. They’re willing to listen to a demagogue who speaks their language.”
How familiar this sounds, I said. Indeed, Toronto Tom confirmed, the so-called “Ford Nation” of ornery, poorly educated, hard-luck voters in the city’s grimmest wards are cousins to the flag-waving, know-nothing, Obama-hating kluxers of America’s so-called “Tea Party.”
Mr. Ford’s status as right-wing Lord of the Rabble slipped a bit last spring when the Star and the U.S. website “Gawker” accused the mayor of being a habitué of crack parlors and impolitic shindigs. There came a brief bidding war between newspaper and website for video proof—in the form of grainy smart-phone photography, put to market by an enterprising co-crackster. From the gate, Mr. Ford denied the accusations, and even the existence of said proof. But when the Toronto police were provided a peek, then given the video itself, the game was over.
Accordingly, the mayor issued the universal politician’s excuse—“I’m not perfect.” In a forced moment of candor he ‘fessed up to indeed having smoked crack, to which he added, with a Fordian stroke of class, “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” A number of television clips followed: the rotund Rob Ford lobbing a football, then taking an ass-over-teakettle tumble to the turf; the mayor, along with brother Doug, on a rampage during a City Council session, at which time Rob Ford’s refrigerator of a body collided with a slender, five-foot tall grandmother, knocking her down; and the drunken mayor jumping and stomping whilst screaming, “I’m going to kill that fucking guy…I’m going to rip out his fucking throat…make sure [the] motherfucker’s dead.”
Most memorable was the clip of His Honor denying that he once importuned a former female aide, “I want to eat your pussy.” During a press conference on live television, Mr. Ford said, “I would never say that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.” Afterwards, a journalistic wag was heard to say, “I believe that kitchen has now closed.”
Said Mr. Markowitz, “The hilarity is over, now it’s just deeply embarrassing.”
BIG SISTER Kathy (left) and Mother Ford
Like their Tea Party counterparts, Ford Nation leaders and true believers have little to no sense of embarrassment. Mayor Rob Ford—“Robbie” to his mama—vows to stand for reëlection in October 2014, despite the findings of an opinion poll conducted by Canada’s CTV news network: sixty-two percent of Torontonians would not vote for Rob Ford again “under any circumstances.”
Never mind the poll, and never mind that the corpulent mayor could very well explode one day in apoplectic rage, Councillor Doug Ford encourages his brother’s candidacy. (During the City Hall rampage, Councillor Doug balled up his fists and invited those heckling Mayor Rob to “bring it on.”) Also advocating a second term for their avoirdupois kinsman are Mother Diane Ford and Big Sister Kathy.
“Robbie’s got a problem,” said Mother in a recent television interview, appearing alongside her rather husky daughter. Of her even huskier son, she said, “He’s got a huge weight problem.”
Big Sister chimed in with, “He won’t resign, and I don’t want him to. Robbie’s not a drug addict. I know because I’m a former addict.”
Sis and Mama ruled out the need of either drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment for the mayor. Their interview aired on the same day the world saw the TV clip in which Robbie Ford spoke murderously, and slurringly, of ripping out someone’s throat.
BROTHERLY broadcasters Doug Ford (left) and Rob Ford
Last Monday, the eponymous “Ford Nation” weekend radio show moved to prime time television via Canada’s Sun network, a pipsqueak right-wing equivalent to America’s Fox TV and Germany’s RTL 2. For the Sun début, the mayor repeated his “drunken stupor” line, and employed two more universal maxims mouthed by fallen and falling politicians: “The past is the past” and “It is what it is.”
The next day, Sun TV cancelled the show.
“Monday’s episode took five hours to record, and another eight hours to edit,” the Globe & Mail reported in its Tuesday edition, “making it an unusually expensive endeavour for a niche network that is in only about 40 percent of Canadian households.”
At long last, will the Ford boys take the hint? Might they seek the path of an American cousin? I speak of former radio and TV broadcaster-cum-Tea Party Congressman Henry J. “Trey” Radel (the III) of Florida, recently arrested by undercover narcotics officers in a posh district of Washington, D.C. Like Mayor Ford, the newly elected U.S. Congressman was prone to irrational political rhetoric and faux-masculine belligerence: he demanded drug testing for all recipients of federal food assistance to impoverished Americans, overwhelmingly women and children; he demanded the impeachment of Barack Obama, based on the fiction that the president would soon “ban guns” by executive fiat. And when first outed as a cokehead, Mr. Radel blamed the “extremely irresponsible” act of attempting to buy cocaine from a narc on his “struggle with the disease of alcoholism.”
Unlike Mayor Ford, there is a genuine regret obvious in Mr. Radel’s tone. He promises to begin doing something about his very real and considerable personal problems. I believe him.
On Wednesday, Mr. Radel pleaded guilty to charges of illegal drug possession and accepted a one-year probationary sentence. He then apologized to his Congressional colleagues, then again to his constituents and to the nation. On Thursday, he took a year’s unpaid leave from office and enrolled in an intensive rehabilitation program as soon as his plane landed in Florida.
Like Mayor Ford, there is dysfunction in Mr. Radel’s family. His mother—Kathy, of all possible names—was an alcoholic who dropped dead at her son’s wedding reception on New Year’s Eve of 2009.
Unlike Mayor Ford, the Congressman manned up to face down his demons.
Thomas Adcock is American correspondent for CulturMag.