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Mayor Rob Ford wins his stay — here are three things he should do next

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Thu Dec 06 2012

As most expected, Mayor Rob Ford won a stay at divisional court yesterday. He won't be removed from office until his lawyer's appeal is heard in early January. So the mayor will continue being the mayor for at least another month.

Next stop: a by-election, probably. Not only does it seem pretty likely that the court will uphold the decision to boot Ford from office, it seems now that the mayor and his brother are actually relishing the idea of going back to the polls. Even at an estimated cost of about $7 million, they're excited about the prospect of winning the hearts and minds of Toronto once again with emphatic talk of gravy trains and subway trains.

But Ford's got a problem. His approval numbers are in the toilet, lower by some measures than Mayor David Miller's ever were. Early polls matching Ford up with would-be challengers indicate that a huge percentage of those who cast a vote for Ford in 2010 have no plans to do so again. At current levels, and setting aside the possibility of a total meltdown from a top challenger, his best shot of re-taking his seat in a by-election comes from a scenario where a four- or five-way vote split leads to a win by capturing about 30% per cent of the popular vote.

And even assuming that's the plan — to squeak out a victory in a chaotic, multi-candidate race — how exactly does that outcome give Ford a renewed mandate? A win with 30 per cent of the popular vote doesn't exactly give a mayor license to be the voice of the people.

No, what Ford really needs to do if he wants to salvage this mayoral mess is quickly rebuild his brand and dramatically improve his approval numbers. In the compressed timeframe of a by-election, I'm not even sure that kind of turnaround is possible.

But it's worth a shot. Here's what I'd recommend the mayor do, now that we know he'll hold on to his seat for another little while.

1. Take ownership of the 2013 budget process

Yeah, he's been busy with court stuff, but even so, this mayor has been oddly quiet through the launch of City Hall's 2013 budget process. Traditionally, the mayor would hold a flashy press conference announcing the details of his $10-billion plan for the city. That's what Ford did in 2011 and 2012. But this year, aside from a few comments on his radio show and the odd mention in press scrums, Ford's pretty much divorced himself from the whole thing.

It's an odd choice. I get that last year's budget was controversial — Ford may be right to want to avoid igniting another “stop the cuts”-style tempest. But if the mayor is planning to run in a by-election on his budget record, he might actually want to talk about the budget.

One of the most damning and effective attack would-be opponents can level against Ford is the idea that he's been a “part-time mayor.” They've got attendance data and media reports to back up the claim. Ford's secrecy with his schedule isn't doing anyone any favours, especially as a politician who talks endlessly about the need for accountability.

Now that he's got a bit of time, Ford's office should be doing all they can to make the mayor more visible around the city. Do more interviews. The radio show he hosts with his brother doesn't count. And get him out to more public events. Ford is at his most endearing when he's interacting with average people, so shine a spotlight on that side of the mayor.

Make sure that people really see that he's working. (This all assumes, of course, that he actually is working.)

3. Come up with a new agenda

Ford needs to tell voters why he deserves more time. Back in the spring, Ford was talking like his political agenda was mostly complete. If that's true, then why does he need another two years at City Hall?

Ford can't run a successful campaign solely on the idea that people should vote for him to keep some left-winger out of office. That kind of defensive strategy never works. If you need proof, look to George Smitherman, who spent the last few months of his campaign pushing the idea that people should vote for him just to keep Rob Ford out of office.

To win, a candidate needs some solid ideas for moving this city forward. Ford has to dig deep and think about the civic projects, programs and initiatives he wants to start, rather than focusing entirely on all the things he wants to stop.

This post was originally published at on 2012-12-06T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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