Rob Ford: New book explores mayor’s upbringing

A new book takes a closer look at the personal life of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, probing his upbringing as the son of a successful businessman and the factors that have shaped his character.

Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story was written by Robyn Doolittle, a Toronto Star reporter

Wendy Mesley sits down with Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle to discuss her new book 'Crazy Town', which explores Rob Ford's background and the scandals that now plague him. 11:06

A new book about Rob Ford claims the Toronto mayor's drug use became a serious problem after his father died in 2006.

Written by Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle and released this week, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story delves into the background of Ford and his family. The book comes after a year of scandal in which the mayor admitted to smoking crack cocaine and had many of his powers stripped by council, largely over concerns about his behaviour.

Doolittle spoke to CBC's Wendy Mesley about her research into the Ford family. She said the Ford siblings grew up in a "dysfunctional household" trying to impress Doug Ford senior, a self-made businessman who served as an Ontario MPP.

"They've lived their whole lives trying to impress their father and gain his acceptance," said Doolittle. "They want him to be proud of them."

Doolittle said she believes that when Doug Ford died in 2006, Rob Ford's occasional drug use became a serious problem.

"He was utterly devastated by the death of his father and that was the person that they never wanted to let down and suddenly that person was not there. That seems to be the moment when he went off the rails."

The Renata tape

Doolittle also spoke to Mesley about a recording she heard of a conversation between Rob Ford's wife Renata and an unnamed confidant. According to Doolittle, on the tape Renata expresses concern over her husband's personal habits and tells the confidant that Ford refused her request to stop using drugs even after he was elected mayor in 2010.

Doolittle said Ford's response was: "I'm not going to give up the blow [cocaine], but I'll give up the pills."

"It was very sad moment," said Doolittle. "You can see the desperation and the foreshadowing that played out there. The fact that they had this conversation after he was elected. It's so brazen to me that he's continuing on this path."

CBC News contacted Renata Ford about the tape. Through her lawyer, Dennis Morris, she said she has no recollection that such a conversation took place and denies that a tape of it exists.

Although Ford has previously admitted smoking crack once, he told CBC News in November he is "not a drug user."  

As for Doolittle's allegations the mayor has a drug problem stretching back to 2006, Ford's office did not comment.

Doolittle says she heard the tape and took notes from it. She also said the person speaking with Renata Ford on the tape tried to sell her a copy of it, a request she refused.

Despite the scandal, Doolittle says Rob Ford believes his family is destined for high political office, even comparing his family to the Kennedys.

"They believe that they should have leadership roles in this country," said Doolittle.

Doug Ford, Rob Ford's brother and city councillor, has indicated he would like to run for provincial office.

"Time and time again they talk about the legacy of the Ford family and that they are born to lead this country," said Doolittle.

One of the Star's city hall reporters, Doolittle said the family's ambition contrasts with the problems brought on by the mayor's personal problems and his associates.

His friend and sometimes driver Alessandro Lisi is facing an extortion charge in connection with attempts to acquire the now infamous crack tape.

Rob Ford could get re-elected

Doolittle said Ford's associates raise concerns about criminal influence at the city's highest office.

"When you're associating with people that are allegedly involved in smuggling guns and drugs into the city, they're involved in homicides … how can you be sort of in charge of the police budget? How can you have city councillors that  you're helping to appoint on the police board, how do you have the moral authority to lead, and speak out in times of tragedy and crisis in this city related to gun violence when you are involved in that world?"

Despite Rob Ford's troublesome term in office, Doolittle believes it's possible he could get re-elected in October, pointing to his strong support in the city's growing suburbs. Doolittle also said Ford's penchant for returning constituent phone calls continues to pay political dividends.

"I hear people all the time say 'I don't like what he's doing but you know what, I had a pipe break, I phoned his office and he came out and had it fixed for me,'" she explained.

"The idea that you have an ally in power empowers you."