Originally published at Humber News Online.
Rob Ford, Toronto’s controversial ex-mayor whose drug use and erratic behavior brought the world’s attention to Toronto municipal politics, has died at age 46 at Mt. Sinai Hospital after a 18-month struggle with cancer.
The Ford family released a statement Tuesday morning confirming the death of the former mayor and requesting privacy.
Mayor John Tory issued his own statement in the wake of his predecessor’s passing.
“I have known Rob Ford for many years. He was a man who spoke his mind and who ran for office because of the deeply felt convictions that he had. As a councillor, mayor and private citizen, Rob Ford reached out directly to people across the city with a phone call, an offer of advice or support, and I know there were many that were affected by his gregarious nature and approach to public service,” Tory said.
Ford won the 2010 mayoral election as an underdog against former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister George Smitherman. His victory was the product of a strategy of pitting the oft-neglected suburbs – Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York – against hated “downtown elites.”
He was elected on a platform of fighting the “gravy train,” a populist vow to cut government spending and taxes.
He would freely give out his cell phone number to constituents and would answer calls from anyone, which earned him a group of diehard supporters dubbed “Ford Nation.”
Ford, son of former Progressive Conservative MPP Doug Ford Sr., was first elected as city councilor for an Etobicoke ward in 2000. He was re-elected in 2003 and 2006.
As mayor, Ford championed building a subway in Scarborough, as opposed to a light rail line funded by the Ontario government. Ford raised property taxes by 1.6 per cent to help pay for an extra $1.5 billion in costs.
He also privatized garbage collection in the city’s west end, a response to the unpopular garbage strike that occurred near the end of his predecessor David Miller’s term.
His victories were not without their political costs. Council was deadlocked throughout most of Ford’s tenure, with right-wing and left-wing councillors battling over taxation, transit and labour issues.
Ford’s international notoriety began on May 16, 2013, when Gawker and the Toronto Star reported on the existence of a video of Ford smoking crack and making homophobic remarks about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” said a defiant Ford in a press conference the next week. “As for a video, I cannot comment on a video I have never seen or does not exist.”
Ford continued to deny the video’s existence for nearly six months.
On Oct. 31 then-police chief Bill Blair (now a Liberal MP) said police had recovered a video that depicts images of Ford “consistent with those previously reported in the press.”
Ford himself was not charged with a crime, but his friend and occasional driver Sandro Lisi was charged with extortion in relation to his efforts to recover the tape, which he will face in court this summer.
After a week of intense media scrutiny, Ford held a news conference.
“You asked me a question back in May and now you can repeat that question,” he told reporters.
“Do you smoke crack cocaine?”
“Exactly. Yes I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford confessed. “But do I? Am I an addict? No!”
He said the event transpired in “one of my drunken stupors.”
Prior to the crack admission, Ford had been criticized for his heavy alcohol use.
He has twice been ejected from Toronto Maple Leafs games for intoxication, once in 2006 and again in 2014.
The month before the crack scandal broke, Ford was asked to leave the Toronto Garrison Ball, an event celebrating the Canadian armed force, due to his visible drunkenness.
His crack confession opened up the floodgates. Reports emerged from former staffers that Ford was often intoxicated at work and drank while driving to Don Boscoe, where he coached football throughout most of his mayoralty. He also allegedly brought a prostitute into city hall and sexually harassed a staffer.
In response to the latter allegation, that he asked to perform cunnilingus on Olivia Gondek, Ford infamously remarked that he has “more than enough to eat at home.”
He apologized later that day with his visibly unimpressed wife Renata at his side.
Council overwhelmingly voted to strip Ford of his mayoral powers on Nov. 18, which Ford compared to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
That same day Ford knocked over Councillor Pam McConnell, as he ran across the council chamber to confront protestors.
The city’s integrity commissioner has since ruled that Ford was “unnecessarily reckless” and his actions were “lacking in decorum” when he knocked McConnell over.
The crack admission and ensuing fracas brought Ford’s demons to the world’s attention, making him a global celebrity of sorts.
He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where Kimmel had Ford watch videos of himself intoxicated, including a bizarre incident where a visibly inebriated Ford spoke Jamaican patois in Etobicoke’s Steak Queen restaurant.
Through it all, Ford insisted on running for re-election in 2018, vowing “Ford More Years.”
He maintained that the crack smoking was an isolated incident, but was forced to take a break from the campaign trail to enter rehab on April 30 after the Globe and Mail uncovered then-recent photos of him smoking crack in his sister Kathy’s basement.
Ford emerged from rehab on June 30, adamant in his desire to run for re-election, but it was not to be.
On Sept. 10, with a bit more than a month to go until the election, Ford was brought to the hospital after complaining of pain in his abdomen.
Doctors discovered a tumour infected with malignant liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer that latches onto the body’s soft tissues – muscle, fat, tendons, joints, etc.
Ford dropped out of the mayoral race on Sept. 12. Brother Doug, who represented Rob’s old Etobicoke ward on city council, ran for mayor in his place, while Rob ran again for council.
Rob won Ward 2 handily, with almost 10,000 more votes than Luke LaRocque, who finished in second.
Doug ultimately finished second place to Mayor John Tory, with former NDP MP Olivia Chow placing a distant third.
Ford is survived by his wife Renata, mother Ruth, brothers Doug and Randy, sister Kathy, children Stephanie, 11, and Doug Jr., 7, and the denizens of Ford Nation, who supported him throughout his travails.