"I've changed the culture down here. You don't hear about the scandals anymore. I mean, a money scandal."
I'll admit it. I'm a sleazy voyeur. Apparently I am completely incapable of getting enough of this train-wreck of depravity. Fortunately, it seems that many others are in the same boat I am.
I'm talking, of course, about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's horrific meltdown as a politician and as a human being. It's like watching a Jerry Springer episode except way funnier because it's not staged. And like Jerry Springer, it makes the viewer feel bad about themselves.
I'm not gonna lie. I am taking satisfaction in watching this law-and-order champion get exposed as a crack-smoking, drunk-driving hypocrite. The German's call it Schadenfreude and it refers to the pleasure one takes in watching another's misfortune. It's not a good thing for the soul and I hate myself for it. But, I also don't think I'm going to stop feeling it until he's off the front pages and I don't think that's gonna happen until this train has finished cartwheeling off the bridge, over the cliff, and into the red-hot magma core at the center of the earth.
First, let's take a quick look at who Ford is and how he came to be mayor of the fifth most populous city in North America. It's probably worth noting that I'm just stealing this basic background of Ford from Wikipedia so if any of it is incorrect, please feel free not to give them any money during their next donation-drive.
In 1969, Robert Ford was born in Etobicoke, a wealthy area of Toronto, Ontario. He was the youngest of four children and his parents had founded Deco Labels and Tags, a grocery/packaging company with annual sales estimated at $100 mil. Ford would become a football enthusiast and his parents would send him to train at the camp of the Washington Redskins and at the University of Notre Dame. He would then go to Carleton University where he made the football team and studied political science. Unfortunately, he would not play any games and went back to Toronto without getting his degree.
Ford would then get a sales job at his parent's company and get married to high-school sweetheart Renata Brejniak in 2000. He would continue being involved with football by coaching at Newtonbrook Secondary School in 2001 until he was dismissed for a dispute with a player. He would then coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School until earlier this year when an interview, unrelated to his current scandals, got him dismissed. Essentially, he was saying that many of the Eagles players, the team he coached, are from broken homes and gangs and only go to school thanks to football.
In 2000, Ford would get elected to city councillor of Etobicoke North, ironically with the endorsement of his later arch-nemesis, The Toronto Star. He had lived in this ward, with a 53% immigrant population and a reputation for gang violence, until his marriage in 2000. He would go on to hold that ward convincingly with 80% of the vote in 2003 and 66% of the vote in 2006. In 2010, he would run for mayor and be elected with 47% of the vote.
His political platform the whole way along has been strongly fiscally conservative with an emphasis on reducing taxes, beating back public-sector unions, law-and-order, and minimizing government while making it more responsive. He would often attack his fellow councillors on their spending habits and was not well liked by the political establishment. To demonstrate that he was different, he reduced his councillor office's spending to basically zero and would respond rapidly to the public's complaints and even give out his personal phone number to constituents. He was essentially swept into office on a wave of resentment aimed at government-employee privilege with his primary plan of "ending the gravy train."
As mayor, Ford has stated that "I've saved a billion dollars." Quite a claim to be sure. Is it true? Well, not completely although he has certainly honestly attempted to cut costs where he could. Taxes were cut by $200 million in the form of getting rid of a license-registration fee. This isn't technically saving money since it's cutting revenue instead of spending but it does fit with his promises of less taxes. However, he contradicts himself when he then adds a savings of $24 million via increased user fees which is a tax increase. It's understandable that he wants the sound bite of being able to say he saved a billion dollars but you can't really have it both ways.
Regardless, reaching a billion is just an arbitrary goal anyway. Any sensible savings are good for a city in the red. He cut $6.4 million from councillor and mayoral office spending. Over seven years, he hopes to have saved $78 million by contracting out garbage collection. He will have saved $89 million from renegotiated public-sector contracts and $606 million from random "efficiencies" found. While columnists have dissected this and demonstrated his numbers are fairly exaggerated, he has been the necessary swinging pendulum that forces the efficacy of programs and spending to be re-evaluated. This rebuilds the faith in the city's politicians which was obviously lacking since they, ya know, elected Rob Ford.
Now to be honest, I like everything about Rob Ford that I've written so far. His love of coaching speaks well of him, even if he was sometimes leaving work early to do it, and his smaller-government mentality was exactly what was needed to combat the massive deficits the city was running. However, his lack of education and wealthy, somewhat entitled upbringing would hurt him later on with some bizarre statements that really polarized people.
In 2006, Ford was angry about the city spending $1.5 million preventing the spread of AIDS. At one point he said: "It is very preventable. If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn't get AIDS probably, that's bottom line."
However, the UN's statistics have demonstrated that the majority of people who get the disease are actually heterosexual, non-drug users. When told it was primarily women who get it, he responded: "How are women getting it? Maybe they are sleeping with bi-sexual men."
Not a great response. It seems to be something someone would say who has heard about the issue but personally knows nothing about it beyond stereotypes. And honestly, if you don't understand an issue, you shouldn't be spouting stuff about something so serious until you've done some research.