November 12, 2011
Love him or hate him — but especially for those who hate him — no one has a moderate opinion of Mayor Rob Ford.
Almost a year into Ford suffering the slings and arrows of Toronto’s highest office, those from his inner circle say he’s being pounded by an ongoing war on the right wing mayor that started before election day and shows no signs of dissipating into the second year of his four-year term.
Ford has been cast by his council enemies as the mayor that will make everything worse, vilified by the unions he has played hardball with and repeatedly whacked like a 300-pound pinata — fairly or unfairly depending who you ask — by some elements of the media.
In his first year as mayor Ford has seen his head photoshopped onto nearly naked photos that ran on the frontpage of NOW magazine, been ambushed by comedians in his driveway and followed to his cottage during Pride weekend.
He’s become a favourite muse of the city’s graffiti artists and allegedly repeatedly threatened with death.
Media coverage of Ford has included personal attacks — complete with shots at his weight, fear and loathing over the mere suggestion of discussing budget cuts and questions around his lack of spending a large chunk of his taxpayer-funded mayor’s office budget.
In the latest controversy, Ford called 911 after comedian Mary Walsh tried to interview him for This Hour Has 22 Minutes in his driveway. A day later, Chief Bill Blair had publicly set the record straight that, despite what the CBC reported, Ford didn’t call 911 operators “bitches” or tell them he was “Mayor Rob f–king Ford.”
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, stepping up to the mayor’s defence during the controversy, accused some people of being unable to get over the fact that Ford won the election last year.
“I think it is time for the enemies of the mayor to stop using him as a target for their own political reasons,” said Ford’s self-proclaimed council quarterback. “It is time to get down to business at City Hall.”
Easier said than done.
Ford’s opponents are organized, energized and committed to derailing his agenda.
Left-leaning Councillor Joe Mihevc is expected to fire a pre-budget shot at Ford’s administration Sunday, warning four of the city’s least attended museums could be shuttered to cut costs.
Budget Chief Mike Del Grande echoed Mammoliti’s feeling among Ford’s inner circle that for some of their fiercest critics, the election isn’t over.
In an op-ed in the Toronto Sun earlier this month, Del Grande accused some news outlets of losing their “journalistic compass.”
Del Grande said this week he stands by his view that the anti-Ford forces — including some in the media — are trying to derail Ford’s message by derailing the messenger himself.
The mayor’s office downplayed the notion there is a war on Ford.
“It’s not necessarily that there is a concerted effort by some media to ‘target’ the mayor, but there appears to be a real desire, by some, to have a ‘gotcha’ moment rather than report on the important issues the mayor’s administration is trying to accomplish for taxpayers,” said Ford’s press secretary Adrienne Batra.
Stefan Baranski, a principal at Counsel Public Affairs and former spokesman for George Smitherman’s mayoral campaign, said there is a “pretty obvious” anti-Ford segment in the media.
“It is very apparent,” Baranski said.
He pointed to the 22 Minutes ambush and the subsequent reporting on the mayor’s 911 calls as an example of how “unfair” some media have been to Ford.
A rough ride in the media isn’t new for Toronto mayors, he adds.
“(Sun City Hall columnist) Sue-Ann Levy wasn’t exactly a friend of (former mayor) David Miller,” Baranski said.
And Baranski said while it is easy for politicians to blame the media, Ford “certainly hasn’t done himself any favours” by promising one thing during the election and then letting those slogans evaporate.
“(Ford) has to answer for why these easy promises have not been reached,” Baranski said.
He credited Batra, his former arch-rival on the campaign trail, for doing “Yeoman’s work” in helping Ford get his message across.
Baranski said he thinks Ford had some early successes but now needs to get back to basics of “respect for taxpayers.”
“As of late I think the realities of government has caught up to him,” he said.
Baranski pointed to “nickel and diming” increases like the 9% water rate hike the budget committee approved Thursday and a new city-wide permit fee to repave your driveway approved by the public works committee earlier this month.
“Can you imagine Councillor Rob Ford voting in favour of that?” he asked.
Bob Reid, chief media strategist at Veritas Communications, said push back is inevitable when you have a politician with “a very strong commitment to fiscal responsibility.”
“It is tough to be the guy that has to say no,” said Reid, who worked for Ontario Premier Mike Harris.
One year in, Reid said Ford has demonstrated “very strong message discipline” — a dream in the public relations world.
But Reid said Ford has made some fumbles.
“I don’t think he is comfortable dealing with the media in general,” he said.
Putting lieutenants out to speak in Ford’s place has been a good idea while boycotting some news organizations entirely “is never a good idea,” Reid said.
Rookie Councillor Josh Matlow — a member of council’s political middle — believes the mayor is often his own worst enemy.
“I think that while there are some left wing opposition members here who do everything they can to embarrass the mayor, the mayor is often better at embarrassing the mayor and distracting from his own agenda than are the left wingers,” Matlow said this week.
The St. Paul’s councillor said he hears from Conservatives who voted for Ford and say they regret it now.
“It is not because they disagree with the basic direction of where he would like to go, they just hate how he is going about it,” he said. “Between the Port Lands folly to various embarrassing incidents that have shown up in the papers, that doesn’t garner a lot of confidence from the public.”
To read this article on torontosun.com, please click here.