Why I feel bad for Rob Ford

I am not a Rob Ford apologist. Rob Ford is a bad mayor, and based on a bunch of evidence he seems to be a bad person. The man lacks empathy, can't comprehend that other people with distinct perspectives exist, refuses to accept any proof from outside his intuition, and even uses his self-avowed ignorance as a point of honour. There are the proven drunken rages in public, accusations of a bigger drinking problem, possible familial abuse and sexual harassment and now the crack video. Some of Rob Ford's problems are public knowledge, others just strongly suspected, but taken together they build one hell of a pattern. (And just for the record I believe some of the stories more than others, but I do believe the crack video exists and the descriptions now in the public domain to be largely accurate.)

Given all that though, and given that I disagree with many of his policies and despise the hypocrisy and willful ignorance and lies he uses to support them, I still feel bad for Rob Ford. Let me try to explain why.

I feel bad because Rob Ford is not a happy man. And he is not a happy man because he is not doing a thing he wants to be doing. I see Rob Ford as an emotional (as opposed to intellectual) being whose world is more black and white than shades of grey. I'm right, you're wrong and even if there are aspects of your position similar to mine, you're still wrong. When he experiences something his response is immediate and single-minded. He doesn't consider contributing factors or how things will be received, he just responds directly and emotionally. If you don't agree full bore, you are attacking him and you are now an enemy. Rob Ford's response is to roar in anger and pain at perceived transgressions and that means he is not suited to being mayor, a job where basic understanding, negotiation and compromise are necessities.

The mayor's emotional reality only became apparent to me on a rare instance when he was in the public eye and obviously happy. At the opening of the new Underpass Park last summer - built beneath an elevated highway by Waterfront Toronto - children were clambering like ants over a newly built jungle gym, having a time as kids are wont to do, when the structure starts bouncing slightly and the camera person suddenly moves to get a better angle. And there he is. Rob Ford has climbed the jungle gym and is now bouncing it and the children. And the children are chanting - Go mayor! Go mayor! - and the man beams. Rob Ford is having the best time, he is happy and it shows and it's kinda nice.

This isn't the original video I saw, but you'll get a feel for what I'm on about, AND get to witness some fantastic audio recording if you watch the whole thing.

But Rob Ford doesn't get to play in the park with children everyday, and Rob doesn't get to perpetually meet with constituents one-on-one to help solve small problems, something I think the man was probably good at. Instead he is mayor and as such needs to subject himself to the chaos of governing, directing city council and working with everyone to find a way forward for the city, something he has repeatedly proven himself incapable of.

What Rob Ford does like doing, and he seems to be quite good at, is coaching football. Unlike at city hall, on the football field he can be as gruff and boisterous as he likes. He's the boss and the players have to do what he says because that's the way it is. He even knows and feels comfortable with the rules, something I'm sure gives him peace of mind. (I'm intentionally leaving this aside for the moment: "By associating himself with crack dealers, a mayor who cast himself as a surrogate football-coach father to black youth who, he claimed, would otherwise have been involved in drugs and gangs, would turn out to be a direct benefactor of the crippling problem he said he was shielding them from. Toronto has seen some cynicism in its days. This is toxic.")

I bring this up because I'm not the only one who thinks it. The reporters who have seen the crack-video report a man off screen telling the mayor his true calling lies in coaching football, and the mayor agrees. So why isn't he doing it? He's from a wealthy family; why doesn't he just coach football and run his foundation full-time?

The answer might be hinted at in another part of the video where Rob Ford is mumbling again... Everyone expects me to be right-wing, I'm... and he trails off. It would be great to know what or who Rob Ford thinks he is, but what we do know is he feels the weight of expectation on him. I assume the expectation and its attendant pressures are mainly familial, but that's obviously me guessing. I've only heard rumours of motherly and brotherly force brought to bear; you have to do this Rob, because of the family name, because of dad, because of history.

Whether from his direct family or the wider conservative one, Rob Ford feels the pressure, and I would guess he feels trapped. When you feel trapped you want to escape and that brings us back to crack and the rest of it. As variously reported and rumoured he drinks to excess, abuses prescription meds and now apparently barrels around high on crack all while his mayoral work suffers, and as an inevitable result the city suffers. Rob Ford is now so desperate to escape his life, job and the expectations that lurk over him he has to hide out in a crack den bantering with men - we don't know what the mayor considers them, strangers or friends - whose motives are clearly not aligned with his own, and it's sad.

Rob Ford's story is a big one, painted in the largest brush strokes of a Greek play, it's all pathos and tragedy, each turn another level of despair. But even the nuance of the tale is incredible. I mean, it had to be crack, it had to be THE drug of urban decay, the default drug we go to as an explanation - assume someone is on - when their decisions make absolutely no sense. Given all that, and the things the mayor has done and wants to do to the city, the things he has said to and about people, horrible things, it's easy to forget the mayor is still a person, not just a caricatured monster, no matter how much we dislike him. And when a person is caught in a story where the Greek gods are pulling the strings, the mortal had best be careful.

He's an unhappy man doing a job that at this point I can't believe he wants to be doing. More than that though, the stress Rob Ford is under might end up doing him some serious long-term, physical harm.

Rob Ford does not look well. Look at most pictures you can find of him online from the past few months, or even just this picture from a flag raising at city hall on Friday.

It's ridiculous and hilarious. It looks exactly like what we expect a picture of Rob Ford to be. He looks like a buffoon, both literally and figuratively a man apart from the crowd. We get to laugh because he is not like us, he is bad and petty and mean, and we rejoice that we are not those things. But Rob Ford also looks sick, so unhealthy, disheveled and on the verge of something disastrous.

As I've said already, I'm not a Rob Ford apologist. Even if I think he's in a situation not of his own choosing - and infantilize him somewhat by saying his mother and brother make decisions for him - it doesn't mean we should forgive his being such a shitty mayor. He is an adult who has to take responsibility for the awful job he is doing. In a few weeks Rob Ford will be turning 44, and I think it would be great if by that time he had found other work. He distracts from governing, gives up on projects the moment they aren't going his way and affixes a bizarre stigma to Toronto internationally as his pratfalls become the only thing people from away know about our city. Rob Ford is not good at his job but I still feel bad for him because beyond what I consider his professional failings the man is suffering. I just hope those around him recognize the demons and help him before anything worse occurs.


  1. A wonderful display of generosity of spirit.

  2. I agree with you. He is not happy and it shows. I too feel sorry for him. You make some great points.

  3. A man trapped by circumstance and his own personality. I believe the denouement may be piccaune and awful at the same time. I see no easy way out for our Mayor. At least Mayor Mel loved doing Mayor things. Rob hates most of it, especially the committee meetings and drudgery that is the real work. No deal maker he.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I feel much the same way.

  5. really well said, thanks for that. It's easy to hate on the guy (because he's such an arrogant a-hole, politically speaking) but his heart is in the right place.

  6. It is hard not to look toward Kathy, Rob Ford's sister, to see the direction the mayor could choose. Kathy took the path of addiction out of the family by entering into a string of questionable relationships. Her ex killed her boyfriend in front of her children. Years later the kids needed to call 911 for their mother when she was accidentally shot in the face in her own kitchen. Police surmised that the incident was caused by a drug deal gone wrong, with at least five other people being present in the house. One report mentioned five guns being found in the house, which was owned by her parents.

    Scott MacIntyre, another Kelly Ford boyfriend and being one person arrested after her shooting, was charged last year with forcible entry, drug possession and uttering two death threats on Rob. The mayor has dealt with Kathy's partners over the years and how far that went is anyone's guess. MacIntyre, in his initial hearing, expressed that he wanted nothing more to do with the Ford clan.

  7. This is probably the most empathic description I've ever read about our mayor. Thank you for seeking the humanity in him. I wonder if he'd agree with this analysis. Maybe not, but I think you're onto something. With all my sympathy, I (like you) still want him to not be mayor.

  8. Rob Ford has had many opportunities to show a willingness to change his ways. The most recent being his court appearnce regarding financial conflict of interest in his football team fundraising efforts using City of Toronto letterhead. Did he show remorse in court? Not a bit. He actually felt he was totally within his rights and that the conflict of interest law should not apply to him. I look at all the people he has abused since coming to office and I cringe.

    Perhaps you might write another column regarding those whose lives Rob Ford has changed for the worse. That would be interesting.

  9. Definition of a Greek tragedy: A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances. This blogger is very generous in his or her observations about Rob Ford.....but at the end of the day, despite the sympathetic views being put forward, there is the admission that Rob Ford is and has always been his own worst enemy. The man is not a leader and "tragic flaw" and "moral weakness" describe him aptly....never mind the "inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances".

  10. makes me think back to when george w. bush was in power in the united states, i remember reading an article wondering how different the world would be had he been left to pursue his dream (major league baseball commissioner) instead of politics.

  11. Very well written! Your points made me develop empathy for the man. I think that many of these hate filled, right wing asshole politicians are full of self loathing, brought on by a relationship with (or lack of) their fathers.
    The last writer mentioned Bush and it is funny because Ford really reminds me of Bush. They are both sad men, who try to mask the sadness and feelings of inferiority, through substance abuse and aggression.
    I hope he seeks help. I don't wish that kind of anguish on anyone.

  12. Very nice writing. A different approach, an empathetic one. thanks.

  13. Sadly, he didn't want to do much as Mayor and the people who voted for him really wanted him to do those few things;

    - tackle inflated spending;

    - build subways;

    - tackle grossly inflated wages and benefits, usually related to unions, and especially to stand up to unions in the wake of events like the garbage strike;

    - build subways;

    - privatize certain union heavy institutions like garbage collecting;

    - oh, and BUILD SUBWAYS!!!! Seriously, I think everyone would have been happy if he could have just accomplished that after getting rid of the dumb light rail transit that was just going to further congest topside traffic and cost about half to three quarters of what a subway would cost while acting as a hopeful stop gap until we got around to building subways. Just cut out the middle man! It's not that hard! You don't need a trillion dollars upfront. Just spend a bit every year and start accounting for it as a project that will forever be happening year to year; always budget to build more subway related things every fiscal year. That should be a 'DUH' statement.

    I also feel that he really did not get a fair shake from city council, and certainly not from media outlets like the Toronto Star (who sends a reporter to go all incognito and scope out someone's property in the dead of night? That's creepy, and a jerk move. If Ford had had a gun and had shot the guy, I can't say I'd have blamed Ford for it more than the Toronto Star. That was just asking for trouble).

    Hopefully in the next election his platform gets taken up by someone more competent. Better still, various councilors align themselves with that platform and Toronto can vote almost as though there was a party to choose from with a limited number of real attainable goals. I think that's what the people want.

    1. The Toronto Star is "creepy"? You're the one condoning shooting a guy, brotha.

  14. That was a great piece. I think I'll share it!

  15. Wow. Your article is well written and may bring out more empathy in the people of Toronto. The photo you included is the one I have forwarded over and over to people out of town. This is what I have tried to articulate or reconcile between laughing and rejoicing at his downfall. When he lost his coaching job all I could think is that he has probably lost his only healthy and happy pursuit and saw him as a human being for the first time since becoming mayor and more than Dougy's baby bullying buffoon.

  16. I agree with the author wholeheartedly. Excellently written -- but a sad circumstance for the city and for the mayor.

  17. Having grown up with a father who battled his own addiction (alcohol), which eventually killed him, I know a thing or two about feeling sorry for an addict and the personality type that it fosters (or fosters it). They are narcissistic, black-and-white thinkers and always, always the victim. While I applaud your empathy in this situation, I simply can't find any for a man who is 43 years old and had more than enough chances to change his situation for the better, especially because he's bringing down an entire city with his problems, not just himself. That's (dare I say it - those al-anon words!) co-dependent thinking.

  18. Well said. Hard to argue with this analysis.