2013 in review: Rob Ford's rollercoaster year
An astounding year for the mayor of Toronto
Since he’s admitted to smoking crack cocaine, Rob Ford has asked Toronto voters to separate what he’s done in office from what he’s done out of office.
But after the maze of allegations, outbursts and apologies, keeping track of what Ford has done and where he’s done it is next to impossible.
So here is a rough guide to Rob Ford’s last 12 months in the spotlight.
The year began with Ford facing impeachment. The allegation was he violated the Municipal Conflict Of Interest Act, which almost seems quaint given what would happen the next 11 months.
The matter before the three-judge panel that day on Monday, January 7, was his appeal. In Osgoode Hall’s courtroom 3, there was a standing room-only seating arrangement, thanks to those who came to witness what could be history.
At the conclusion of what Twitter called #Fordcourt, there were some tense moments. Would Ford continue as mayor?
The tension was eventually eased with a tweet from the mayor’s then-chief of staff Mark Towhey. He sent out “383,501 :)”, a short, cryptic communique which still managed to speak volumes about the mayor’s views on democracy. The number was the total votes Ford received in the 2010 election.
Ford’s zeal for a casino in Toronto attracted criticism from council colleagues and community advocates, but mostly the mayor stayed out of the public eye this month. It would be revealed later, however, that on February 23, the mayor was asked to leave the Garrison Ball, a military gala attended by 800 or so people on Exhibition grounds, because he was allegedly intoxicated.
On March 7, Ford attended a gala organized by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee at the Arcadian Court. He was photographed with Sarah Thomson, the publisher of the Women’s Post and a candidate against Ford in the 2010 election. The next day, a Friday, Thomson alleged that the mayor may have been on cocaine, and that he touched her inappropriately at the gala.
Ford denied the accusation, calling it “disgusting”, and said on his radio show that Thomson was not sane (“not playing with a full deck” were his exact words).
“Women used to be called ‘hysterical’ or ‘crazy’ when they claimed a sexual assault... this made many stay silent,” said Thomson at the time. “[The mayor] has just done the same to me and in so doing taken us back generations!”
There was split opinion on the allegations. It marked only the first of several times which Ford pitted his credibility against someone else’s.
The next time he appeared on the front pages, in fact, was a similar story. The Garrison Ball, the gala the mayor was at a month earlier, was in the news. Three organizers told the Toronto Star the mayor was intoxicated and asked to leave. The Star called the mayor’s alcohol abuse an “open secret” at City Hall. The mayor denied it, and again made the allegation his word against anyone else’s.
On April 20, Ford’s phone goes missing. It apparently ended up in the hands of Liban Siyad, who police say is a member of a sprawling, drug-dealing gang called the Dixon Bloods. This is the night police reports say he was consuming drugs and alcohol at 15 Windsor Road. He is apparently using ‘hezza’ and ‘dugga’, slang for various drugs.
This would not become public until December, however, with the release of police surveillance wiretaps.
Also in April: Ford walks into a camera while trying to walk by reporters at City Hall. The clip makes late night comedy shows.
If there were whispers about Ford’s alcohol intake before, those were now raised voices. This is the month, of course, when Gawker published a story about a video showing the mayor smoking out of a crack pipe. It was fuzzy on the details. The same night, the Toronto Star wrote up a corroborating story about a crack video. For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack Cocaine, was the Gawker headline.
A photo associated with both stories was the mayor standing with Anthony Smith, Monir Kassim and Muhammad Khattak outside 15 Windsor Road - a place police characterize as a crack house.
The report of the crack video would become, for the third time in a month, a contest of truth-telling. Rob Ford versus two media outlets. "Absolutely not true. It's ridiculous. It's another Toronto Star whatever," said the mayor at the time.
A week later, Ford’s first and most famous denial was issued at a press conference. “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” he said. “As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist. It is most unfortunate, very unfortunate, that my colleagues and the great people of this city have been exposed to the fact that I have been judged by the media without evidence.”
Regardless, Ford is fired as football coach of the Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School football team, and is banned from coaching again at any other Catholic school by the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
His staff is reduced, as several resign and Towhey, the chief of staff at the time, is fired for allegedly telling Ford to get help.
Toronto Police complete pre-dawn raids on apartment buildings on Dixon Road, targeting gun- and drug dealing gangs operating in the area. It is called Project Traveller. This is only a few hundred metres from 15 Windsor Road.
Months later, Bill Blair, Toronto’s police chief, would reveal that officers recovered a hard drive which had a video file “consistent with what had been previously described in various media reports.”
While attending the Taste of Little Italy festival on College Street, a woman throws a drink at Ford. The drink was thrown by 27-year-old Shannon Everett, who says it was thrown away from the mayor where there no one was standing. A legal action ensues, but is later dropped.
A relatively quiet month for Ford, as he battles for subways in Scarborough at City Hall. In an attempt to rehabilitate his image after the crack allegations, he appears in the Toronto Sun under the headline “New Look Ford”.
The month begins with Ford making a sloppy appearance at the Taste of the Danforth festival. He appeared to slur his words as he took photos and talked to onlookers. He attracted such a significant crowd, the police had to escort him off Danforth Avenue to his vehicle.
Ford originally admitted to “a few beers”. On August 11, he said, “I drove myself down there, I was not drinking. I went out, had a few beers and I did not drive home. My people met me after that."
Later, on November 3, the mayor went into further detail about what happened on that night. "That was pure stupidity,” he said on his radio show. “I shouldn't have got hammered down at the Danforth. If you're going to have a couple drinks you stay home, and that's it. You don't make a public spectacle of yourself."
At the end of the month, the spectacle became a staged arm-wrestling match with professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. Ford won the match.
Pressure increased on Ford to take a leave of absence or otherwise step aside as mayor, but September is a quiet month for the mayor relative to other parts of the year. While he jostled in council over transit in Scarborough, though, police were watching Ford and his occasional driver and friend Alexander “Sandro” Lisi.
Ford’s September proved to be the calm before the storm.
On the morning of October 2, Rob Ford’s already troubled year was about to become worse.
His friend, Lisi, was arrested on drug charges. As the mayor prepared to fly to Austin, Texas, for a city business, he addressed the media about Lisi from an impromptu press conference at a gas station. He called him a “friend” and said Lisi was "a good guy and I don’t throw my friends under the bus."
Lisi, it would be revealed later, was the subject of the police investigation called Project Brazen, which came out of the Project Traveller raids. Lisi was a marijuana dealer, but led police to look at the mayor, documents later showed.
Media, including the CBC, fought to get access to the documents used to arrest Lisi, as is common in criminal court cases.
The Information To Obtain documents, called the ITO, included 480 pages of surveillance including wiretaps. It came out in pieces, and portions were redacted, but enough of the documents were released on October 30 to cause a media storm.
Alleged drug use, consorting with gang members, abusing alcohol, urinating in public - the documents contained numerous improprieties by the mayor.
Ford was mentioned in police surveillance 2049 times - more than Lisi, the original target of the investigation, and Jamshid Bahrami, who was also charged.
"I wish I could come out and defend myself but I can't. It's before the courts,” said Ford in front of his office at City Hall. “No reason to resign. I am going to go back and return my phone calls and be out doing what the people elected me to do and that's save taxpayers money and run the great government that we've been running the last three years."
The next day, in a surprising press conference by chief Blair, the allegations became more serious. Blair confirmed having seen a video with Ford in it on a hard drive recovered from Project Traveller drug raids.
Blair said he was disappointed.
Meanwhile Ford was visibly irate as he stepped out of his house to find a crush of reporters waiting for him. He began pushing cameramen, including the CBC's, to the edge of his property.
Within the next week, every Toronto newspaper called on Ford to resign.
“Let’s see the tape.” That call for the Toronto Police to release the crack video was a frequent refrain for Doug Ford in the week after the Blair press conference.
On Metro Morning, Coun. Ford attacked Blair, saying he went on inappropriate fishing trips as chief and called on him to resign.It was the beginning of an awkward and yet-unresolved divide between Blair and the Fords.
At the same time, Mayor Ford began a campaign to apologize for his drinking.
He began by announcing that he would address the allegations on his since-cancelled weekly radio show.
On air, Ford apologized, saying he would cut back drinking and lose weight. “I am not perfect,” he said. “I have made mistakes. I have made mistakes, and all I can do right now is apologize for the mistakes."
Only a few days passed before Ford apologized again. This time it was for smoking crack cocaine.
“Yes I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford said unexpectedly as he emerged from an elevator outside his office on November 5. "But, no — do I? Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
It was a stunning admission that came after months of denials.
By this point, Ford was international news. Many assumed the admission would be followed by a resignation.
He emerged again from his office to issue a formal statement."I was elected to do a job and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing," Ford said, telling reporters that voters will decide next year when the municipal election is held if he should keep his job as mayor.
"Folks, I have nothing left to hide," Ford said.
The next day, a video of Ford appearing agitated in a living room was broadcast from the Toronto Star and Sun websites. Ford again apologized.
"All I can say is again I’ve made mistakes. It’s extremely embarrassing. The whole world’s going to see it,” he said.
On November 13, more documents from Project Brazen were released. There were several more allegations of drug use, among interviews with Ford’s former staff members. He gave a blanket statement about the new allegations, calling them “outright lies” and said they were “not true”.
Ford addressed one allegation directly, however. The ITO reported that Ford made sexual advance toward a former staff member. He shocked reporters when he spoke about it. The woman "said I wanted to eat her p—y," Ford said before cameras. "I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I'm happily married. I've got more than enough to eat at home."
Ford and his brother later made headlines for arguing with members of the public during a council meeting. Doug Ford was in a shouting match that escalated to the point where the mayor thought a physical altercation would ensue. While running to the defence of his brother, the mayor unintentionally bowled over Coun. Pam McConnell. As many of Ford's antics do, the video of the incident went viral online.
On December 5, the remaining portion of the ITO was released to media, with a raft of new drug-related allegations against the mayor.
- heroin use
- offering money in exchange for the crack video
- consorting with gang members
- drinking and driving
- and a brotherly rift during which Doug and Rob were not on speaking terms.
Ford did not address the new release, other than calling them lies on his football segment on Washington, D.C. radio station.
His interviews were the source of controversy this month more than ever. One such interview, with Conrad Black, became the source of more than controversy, as he made potentially defamatory comments about Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale.
Meanwhile, Ford would again cause ripples in the international media. While making his football picks, he said he would give his wife cash for Christmas. “Women love money,” he said, capping off a memorable year for Toronto’s chief magistrate.