Toronto voters look elsewhere besides Ford
TORONTO (AP) — Enough with the crack smoking, public drunkenness and outrageous behavior. After four years in which City Hall has sometimes been as entertaining as a circus sideshow, Toronto residents appear eager for something altogether different in their mayor: DULL.
Voters head to the polls Monday to elect a successor to Rob Ford, who announced last month that he would not seek re-election as he battles a rare and difficult form of cancer. His brother, city councilor Doug Ford, is running in his place but is widely expected to lose to John Tory, a wealthy, straight-laced moderate conservative who stands in contrast to the pugnacious, populist Ford brothers.
Analysts say Olivia Chow, a leftist candidate and the widow of late popular Canadian politician Jack Layton, seems to have lost momentum as a candidate as people look to vote strategically to ensure Doug Ford doesn’t win.
City Councilor Jaye Robinson, a one-time Ford ally who is now supporting Tory, said folks just want to make sure a Ford isn’t mayor.
“People are literally counting down. Every door I go to, they are counting down. They are feeling that this is going to be transformative moment in our city where we right the ship, we focus on city building and we leave the sideshow, the circus, the distractions behind,” Robinson said. If Tory wins, she said, “there will be a collective sigh of relief across the entire city.”
A record 161,147 people turned out for early voting this month, more than double the number in the last election, in 2010. Among them was Kaye Wilkinson, a retiree who lives in Etobicoke, the middle-class western Toronto suburb that is home to the Ford family.
“We have to get rid of the Fords. I don’t care who is running,” Wilkinson said. “The top runner, we don’t care what their policies are, but we wanted to make sure we got rid of the Fords.”
Marianne Davis, 62, a retired principal who lives in Etobicoke, also voted early.
“I’m tired of all the shenanigans that have been going on at City Hall so I voted for Tory,” Davis said. “I get tired of traveling and people asking me about my mayor.”
Ford’s tenure as mayor of Canada’s largest city was marred by his drinking problems and illegal drug use. He was repeatedly videotaped and photographed while intoxicated in public.
After months of denials, the mayor in 2013 acknowledged he had smoked crack cocaine in one of his “drunken stupors,” but he refused to resign. The City Council stripped Ford of most of his powers but lacked the authority to force him out of office because he wasn’t convicted of a crime.
Ford’s antics made him the target of late-night television comedians in the U.S. Last March, he appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” after months of wooing by the talk-show host, who introduced his guest by saying he “has tripped, bumped, danced, argued and smoked his way into our national consciousness.”
Robinson said it’s hard to pick just one low light of the last four years because “it didn’t even seem like it was weekly. It felt like it was hourly. It was just unbelievable.”
Ford announced he was entering rehab for drugs and alcohol in April 2014 after newspaper reports detailed three nights in which the mayor was extremely intoxicated. One report was about a video that appeared to show him smoking a crack pipe again — nearly a year after reports of a similar video first brought international attention.
When Ford was elected mayor in 2010, his drug and alcohol use weren’t known — but his bluster was. A plurality of voters backed him, eager to shake things up at a City Hall they viewed as elitist and wasteful. Ford’s voter base resided mainly in those outer suburbs like Etobicoke. He appealed to those residents with his populist, common man touch and with promises to slash spending, cut taxes and end what he called “the war on the car.”
He first won as mayor by promising to “stop the gravy train” of government spending. But Toronto got more turmoil than expected.
“We had no idea he was such a personal mess that he’s turned out to be,” Councilor John Parker said.
Despite the cancer, Ford has opted to seek the City Council seat from the Etobicoke district where he launched his political career. His brother now holds the seat.
Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political science professor, said Tory is all but assured of winning. He compared the Ford brothers to right-wing populist American Tea Party-type candidates.
“Toronto will go back to being more placid, more boring, more consistent with the stereotypical image that Americans have of Canadians,” Wiseman said.
Tory, 60, is a former chief executive of Rogers Communications, a major cable company in Canada, and a longtime moderate conservative politician and adviser. He also served as commissioner of the Canadian Football League and more recently hosted a radio talk show. He ran for mayor in 2003 and lost.
Josh Matlow, a centrist on the City Council, said there will be celebrations across the city if Tory is elected this time.
“If we keep a Ford in the mayor’s seat,” Matlow said, “the world will think not only was our mayor on crack — so was the rest of the city.”
Associated Press writer Charmaine Noronha contributed to this report.