Mayors Gone Wild: Canuck Edition

800px-Skyline_of_Toronto_viewed_from_Harbour, Flickr John Vetterli

The lovely city of Toronto, now home to a truly embarrassing mayor. Flickr photo by John Vetterli

There are increasing calls for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to get ouuuwwwwt of city hall.  (“Ouuuwwwwt” is how people from Ontario tend to say “out”.)

Here in the United States, we know all about mayoral scandals.  In the ‘90s, there was D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who was sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted on drug charges.  In the ‘00s, we had Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose offenses made Barry’s seem rather trivial: he was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for a laundry list of crimes that included “taking bribes, steering contracts to his friend, extorting businessmen, deceiving donors to his nonprofit, living lavishly on the public’s dime and loading the city’s payroll with friends and family.”

Bob_Filner_mayoral_portrait, City of San Diego

Bob Filner, your creepy smile inspires chills in women everywhere – and not the good kind. Official mayoral portrait by the City of San Diego

This decade, San Diego was forced to endure Mayor Bob Filner, who only made it about nine months into his tenure before accusations of sexual harassment by at least 17 women forced him to resign.  Filner eventually pleaded guilty to three charges of false imprisonment and battery.

For those lamenting the bad behavior occurring in city halls across America, at least you can take comfort in the truism, “Misery loves company.”  As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones rolling our eyes at the latest outrageous behavior of our mayors.  The same thing is happening now in Canada’s largest city, Toronto.

Yes, I know Canadian politics doesn’t often make its way into conversations in the U.S., but this is a particularly juicy story, so it merits a bit of attention.  Current Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has never been the kind to avoid the spotlight.  His family owns a company that manufactures and sells labels to businesses, which has evidently made them decently wealthy.  He served as a Toronto city councilor for ten years before becoming mayor in 2010, and his brother Doug is a city councilor right now.  The two of them started hosting a weekly talk radio program last year entitled The City with Mayor Rob Ford & Councillor Doug Ford.

Ford has not gotten along particularly well with some segments of the media, including a feud with The Toronto Star newspaper back in 2011.  He has the kind of big, boisterous personality that tends to grab headlines, earning as many enemies as friends.  Thus, Canadian journalists, political analysts, and comedians must have been thanking God when the story first broke that the mayor had been caught on camera smoking a crack pipe while making offensive remarks about a gay politician and ethnic minorities, among other things.

Flickr hyfen Andrew Louis

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaking at a press conference. Flickr photo by user hyfen and Andrew Louis

This is not the first time that Rob Ford has been embroiled in legal controversy.  While he was still a city councilor, he was ordered to repay donations that had been made to a football charity that he heads after it was revealed that he used official city resources to court donors.  The controversy continued to evolve over the course of a few years, with the Supreme Court of Canada finally making the decision this year not to hear an appeal of a case that had been brought against Ford on charges stemming from this incident, giving the mayor one important win in his ongoing fight to keep his job.

Unfortunately for Ford, he did not have much of a chance to celebrate that victory as he was already caught up in the crack pipe video scandal.  The Toronto police department has been investigating the mayor’s behavior after reports of inappropriate conduct involving drugs and alcohol. (This is a problem that has apparently been with Ford for some time: he was previously arrested in Miami back in 1999 and charged with drunk driving and marijuana possession.)

They have found evidence that Ford was in regular contact with drug dealers, one of whom has now been charged with extortion in connection with this case.  They also were able to recover the original video (seen previously by journalists but still not by members of the public) and pictures which appeared to implicate the mayor.


The much publicized photo of Rob Ford at a reported crack house. Although the author of this photo is unclear, its importance to an ongoing investigation, the involvement of a public figure, and its widespread use indicate that it should fall under the fair use category.

In light of this evidence, Ford took a page from Anthony Weiner’s playbook: he offered a half-hearted apology (which likely just meant he was sorry for getting caught), but refused to resign amid growing pressure from the city council, local media, and members of the public.  The mayor appeared on his radio show with his brother and admitted to some “mistakes”, such as getting “hammered” and “a little out of control” on previous occasions.

However, Ford insisted that nothing could be proven until the video of the alleged incident was made public.  He told the Toronto police captain, “I am asking you to release this video now.”  Apparently, he is betting that the public’s imagination of what could be on the tape is worse than the reality.  The police have replied that since the video has been turned over to the courts, they are no longer in charge of it.

Rob_Ford_Mayoral_Candidates_Forum_June_2010, Flickr Shaun Merritt

Rob Ford at a forum for Toronto mayoral candidates back in June 2010. Flickr photo by Shaun Merritt

Those calling on Ford to resign include the deputy mayor, city councilors, and all four major Toronto newspapers.  However, no actual charges have been filed against him.  As an article in USA Today explained, “Despite the pressure on Ford, municipal law makes no provision for his forced removal from office unless he’s convicted and jailed for a criminal offense. Voters may have the final word in the October 2014 mayoral election in which Ford has said he plans to run.”

History proves that relying on voters to oust badly behaved politicians is merely wishful thinking.  Marion Barry was re-elected as D.C. mayor after his run-in with the law.  U.S. Representatives like Charles Rangel have been able to hold onto their seats despite serious ethical failings, largely because their districts are so overwhelmingly dominated by one political party that, in the words of one of my former professors, only being caught in bed with a dead person would be enough to get them kicked out of office.  Rob Ford has not been accused of necrophilia (so far); therefore, we cannot be sure that Toronto voters will give him the boot next year, should he survive in office until that point.

As depressing as this may be, at least we can take solace in the fact that Americans are not unique in their propensity to elect misbehaving idiots to be their mayors.  It turns out that things are just as bad in Canada as they are down here, at least in this one area.  So if you were thinking of moving north to get away from all of these mayoral scandals, think again!  Toronto is apparently the new Chicago, or D.C., or San Diego…admittedly with a better theater scene.

P.S. In the mood for some Rob Ford related humor?  Try this video from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.