On Thursday evening, Rob Ford, the embattled Mayor of Toronto, received an expression of support from an unexpected quarter.
A report on a satirical website had suggested that Charlie Sheen was calling for his resignation, following Mr Ford’s admission that he had smoked crack cocaine. The Los Angeles-based actor felt the need to clear things up.
“Dear Mayor Rob Ford,” Mr Sheen wrote on Twitter, “The only truth or correct reporting in today’s repulsive story regarding my alleged comments about you is the accurate spelling of your great city… If I can be of any assistance in any capacity in this media cesspool, please accept the noble offer of my steady hand and compassionate heart.”
From any other celebrity, this show of solidarity with the scandal-hit politician might have seemed extraordinary, but Mr Sheen has experienced his own share of scandals, which may explain his attitude. What is less easy to explain is that almost a quarter of Toronto voters are still standing by their 44-year-old mayor: an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted this week found that 24 per cent believed he ought to stay in his job.
This, of course, comes after Mr Ford’s admission that he once smoked crack while in a “drunken stupor”, several months after reports surfaced of a video of him sampling the drug, and days since Toronto police revealed they had seized that video. It was neither the first nor the last indignity of Mr Ford’s time in office. In the past, he was ejected from a local ice hockey game for public drunkenness, and accused of groping a woman who ran against him for mayor.
Late last week, another embarrassing video emerged, in which the Mayor appeared to threaten to murder an unnamed rival. On Wednesday, Mr Ford confessed to the city council that he had purchased illegal drugs during his time as Mayor. He also faced a series of new allegations from City Hall staffers, including suggestions that he had a physical altercation with two of his aides on St Patrick’s Day 2012.
Responding to the allegations at an impromptu press conference on Thursday, Mayor Ford denied, in graphic terms, a female staffer’s claim that he had offered to perform oral sex. “It says I wanted to eat her p***y,” he said live on television news. “I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
Later, he apologised for the vulgar comments. With his wife Renata standing beside him, looking suitably mortified, Mr Ford told reporters he was under “tremendous, tremendous stress” and had sought support from “a team of healthcare professionals”. He had “acted on complete impulse” when responding to the allegation, which he described as “100 per cent lies”. Mr Ford has repeatedly denied that he suffers from drug addiction or a drinking problem. Asked about the accusation of drink-driving, he said he “might have had some drinks and driven, which is absolutely wrong”.
And yet, instead of taking one of this series of humiliating moments as a signal to resign, Mr Ford has seemingly used the past fortnight’s events as a launch-pad for his 2014 re-election campaign. Whether he can ever get it off the ground is another matter.
Toronto’s city council cannot force a mayor from office unless he is convicted of a criminal offence – and no charges have yet been brought against Mr Ford. Yesterday, however, the council voted to strip him of many of his powers, including the authority to appoint and dismiss the committee responsible for the city’s budget. The motion was approved by 39 votes to three. Among the dissenters were Mr Ford himself, and his brother, councillor Doug Ford.
Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, the province that includes Canada’s largest city, has said she is ready to step in with special legislation to help the council remove Mr Ford from office if necessary.
Even the Canadian Football League has complained about Mr Ford’s behaviour, after he made his offensive remarks regarding oral sex while wearing the official jersey of the Toronto Argonauts team.
And yet, even as his city threatens to become an international laughing stock, Mayor Ford can still claim support among Toronto’s citizens. He was elected in 2010 with 47 per cent of the vote, 11 per cent clear of his nearest rival – the largest margin of victory for any incoming mayor in Toronto’s recent history. Many believe he has lived up to the promises he made during his campaign: to reduce frivolous spending, cut taxes and save the city money.
Joy Green, a resident of the city ward which Mr Ford represented as a councillor, blames the Mayor’s travails on “bad judgement” attributable to “health issues”, and says most of her neighbours still support him. “He has been an excellent Mayor,” Ms Green said.
Ms Green lives in an apartment block that was raided by police in June, a raid which led to the discovery of the Mr Ford “crack video”, not to mention large quantities of drugs and firearms. She pointed to the Mayor’s achievement in finding funding, despite stiff opposition at City Hall, for the expansion of Toronto’s subway system. Of his refusal to step down, she said, “He’s a strong stubborn man, and that’s something I like about him.”
Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson University, explained that Mr Ford had succeeded in tapping into “politics of resentment and retribution”, which is deeply felt in Canada, thanks to widening income inequality.
In yet another twist, a Canadian television station announced this week that the Mayor and his brother would be hosting their own television show, beginning on Monday. The right-leaning Sun News Network – known locally as “Fox News North” – said Ford Nation would be a TV version of the brothers’ conservative talk-radio show, which came to an end last week. Even if Mr Ford can’t win votes, he can surely win ratings.
Rob Ford: In his own words
On cocaine and prostitutes
“No one, but no one, is gonna accuse me of having escorts and doing lines at a bar.”
On oral sex
“I’m happily married. I have more than enough to eat at home, thank you very much.”
On buying drugs
“It was a personal mistake that we all have done. Maybe not as serious as mine, but we all have skeletons in our closet that many people would not want to have exposed.”
“It’s extremely embarrassing. The whole world is going to see it. I don’t have a problem with that… Obviously I was extremely, extremely inebriated. That’s all I have to say.”
On crack cocaine
“Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”