Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

The people behind 'the people's mayor' deserve a better response than this

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Published on Thu May 23 2013

Seven days have passed since allegations of crack cocaine use were first levelled against Mayor Rob Ford. Writers across the city have now probably broken some sort of record for the use of the word “alleged.” We're all pretty tired of waiting around for the mayor to say something.

And yet we still don't know much about the apparent contents of the video at the centre of all this. We do, however, know a lot about how Ford has responded to the scandal.

We know, for example, that his response has been weird. We know that none of it has made any sense. We know that, in the wake of this scandal, the mayor's communications strategy — if we can call it that — has been a complete and total disaster.

To illustrate, take Ford out of the story for a second and try this experiment. How would you respond if a major media outlet reported that you used crack? If it were me, I'd do a couple of things. First, I'd loudly deny it. I'd tell every person I could that, hey, that thing you read about me? It's not true. I'd go to great lengths at necessary. I'd look at rental costs for skywriters who could spell out “MATT ELLIOTT? NOT A CRACK USER! YOU MAY HAVE BEEN MISINFORMED” in big wispy letters across the sky.

I'd get the word out that someone had lied about me.

I'd do this because I am not a crack user and I wouldn't want people to think otherwise. That's no judgment on drug users — it's simply a preference for the truth. Which brings me to the second thing I'd do: I'd see about suing the people who had made the claim in the first place. Legal action may be costly to pursue, but it could be worth it. Under Canadian libel law, I'd have a good chance of winning.

Rob Ford, as of this writing, has done neither of these things. And while it's unfair to make too many assumptions based on his inaction, I think it's fair to flag his non-response as curious.

Things got even more curious yesterday afternoon, when Coun. Doug Ford forced us all ask a tough question: Is it possible that Doug Ford can make this scandal any worse than it already is?

The answer, we learned after an early afternoon press conference delivered by the mayor's brother, was yes. Doug Ford can make anything worse.

He was in fine form at City Hall yesterday, using a lot of words to say virtually nothing. He said the mayor didn't need to comment any further, as he had “already addressed these allegations three times, on Friday.” Which came as a big surprise to reporters who have been camped outside Ford's home and office for a week waiting for any kind of official comment on the matter and have been treated, thus far, to only a 13-second prepared quasi-statement and a series of muttered comments about how much the Toronto Star sucks.

Doug also made the Star a big focus of his comments, of course. Of the crack allegations, he said, “our mayor faces yet another accusation — an accusation driven by questionable reporting from a news outlet that has proven they would do anything to stop the mayor's agenda.” Which is a weird statement, because the news outlet he's referring to (the Star) didn't even break the story — Gawker did.

And no one really cares about stopping “the mayor's agenda.” The mayor hasn't been able to win a significant council vote since the first year of his term. There's no agenda to stop.

Coun. Ford spent most of his time in front of the podium going over the same, mostly misleading talking points boasting the mayor's accomplishments. It was dull.

When he did finally get around to addressing the allegations directly, he offered only these carefully worded statements. First, he said, “Rob is telling me these stories are untrue, that these accusations are ridiculous, and I believe him.” Then, later, he added this hypothetical: “If the mayor stopped and held a press conference every time the media made up a story about him, we would never have accomplished what we have” — which ignores the fact that every other Ford scandal has come with, if not an official mayoral press conference, at least an abundance of commentary from Doug Ford.

Neither of those statements, you'll note, stand as denials. No one in the Ford camp has flat-out said that the mayor is not a drug user. And no one in the Ford camp has denied the existence of the video or claimed it a forgery.

Again, these omissions don't stand as admissions, but there's a weird disconnect here. Early in his remarks, Doug called Rob the “people's mayor.” And it's an apt label for a politician who has made a career on being a regular guy who calls constituents back and helps them with their problems. But Ford hasn't been acting much like a regular guy since the drug story broke.

The average person, faced with these sorts of allegations, would talk. Would explain. Would deny. Would rationalize. Would speak honestly to the people who elected him. But Rob Ford has stuck with the bizarre strategy of saying nothing. Seven days in, it's not working. The people behind the “people's mayor” deserve something much better than this.

This post was originally published at on 2013-05-23T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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