By James M. Perry
Is it possible that Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, is the evil twin brother of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey?
They are both big and loud. The comparison stops there though. "Yes," said the 44-year-old mayor the other day, "I have smoked crack cocaine." Probably, he notes, while he was in a "drunken stupor." When the news got out, his approval rating shot up four points.
Think about it. Toronto, the third largest city in North America (it's in a virtual tie with Chicago), is in Canada, and Americans tend to think of Canadians as decent and law-abiding, and maybe just a little bit dull.
There's nothing dull about Rob Ford. The Toronto Star released a video the other day showing him weaving around what appears to be a living room, clearly inebriated, shouting, "I'm gonna kill that f....ing guy. I'm telling you, it's first-degree murder. I'll rip his f...ing throat out. I'll poke his eyes out." It actually goes downhill from there. The Star reportedly paid $5,000 for the video. Just who the mayor had in mind to kill is not made clear.
(Marion Barry, when he was mayor of Washington, D.C., in 1990, was videotaped by FBI agents smoking crack cocaine and served six months in jail. He was re-elected mayor in 1994 and serves on D.C.'s city council today, a charming old rogue much loved by his constituents.)
After watching the video, an abashed Mr. Ford apologized. "All I can say is again, I've made mistakes.... It's extremely embarrassing. The whole world's going to see it. You know what? I don't have a problem with that."
Cooler heads seem to be emerging, asking that the mayor resign and seek help.
But why was he elected in the first place? He comes from a wealthy family -- big house in the suburbs, big swimming pool, a back yard big enough to entertain a thousand people. He went to college, hoping to play football (he attended a camp sponsored by the Washington Redskins). He never got off the bench and he never graduated. He's been a troublemaker for years, most of his escapades being accompanied by alcohol.
He was elected Toronto's 64th mayor in November of 2010, for some of the same reasons Christie was elected governor of New Jersey. It was, says Marci McDonald in Toronto Life, "a groundswell of hard-working, beer-drinking people rallying around an ordinary guy. He's the antithesis of the image-savvy, controlled politician." So, of course, is Chris Christie. Much of Ford's support came from the suburbs, attracted by his low tax, small-government agenda. It helps he drives his own car and goes trick-or-treating with his two kids (his wife, Renata, is rarely seen) in a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey.
Rob Ford's story is probably going to end badly, but it may serve to remind Americans that Canada is no longer quite what Americans have always believed. The population of Toronto is 2.7 million, and 49 per cent of them were born somewhere other than Canada.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.