Slow learners

Toronto mayoral candidates appeared at a debate focused on faith issues on Monday, May 10, 2010. (CTV News)

Some people can watch an event unfold before them and fail to comprehend its import. But to see an event unfold several times, have it explained to you by the municipal affairs columnist for the city’s largest-circulation daily, and still fail to grasp the essentials—that level of obtuseness can only be found in politics and political punditry.

Here, for example, is the Toronto Star‘s Royson James explaining why Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign continues to gain traction:

They call him names. They mock him. They tell anyone with a microphone and a pen that the rambunctious councillor is a buffoon with foot-in-mouth disease, a one-trick pony incapable of competing in the sophisticated world Toronto must navigate.

As if the voters don’t know this already. Ford’s been a councillor for 10 years. His file of verbal indiscretions is thick and well worn.

In fact, with every effort like George Smitherrman’s launch of the website, intended to showcase the celebrated gaffes of the councillor from Etobicoke North, Ford gains in popularity.

The Toronto electorate, circa 2010, is not looking for a silver-tongued prophet with a vision of an ascendant Toronto. They had one for seven years and are decidedly unhappy with the result. That’s the reality. And any reasonably skilled candidate for mayor, especially an outsider or someone looking to change direction at city hall, should have been able to capitalize on this gift.

— James, Royson. “Despite attacks, Rob Ford’s simple message takes hold.” Toronto Star, 18 August 2010.

It’s not rocket science, in other words. James is giving Smitherman, Rossi et al a freebie here. The voters are indicating that they hear Ford’s message and like it. One can tear down the messenger, but if the competing message isn’t particularly appealing, people aren’t going to get on board with it. Ford’s congenital oafishness isn’t news to the electorate; spending one’s time and money pointing it out, yet again, doesn’t deflect voters who have already decided it doesn’t matter to them.

The truly, epically stupid thing about this mayoral election is that there is no mystery to Ford’s supposedly inexplicable rise. If his prospective opponents were taking notice, Rob Ford’s modus operandi was laid bare four years ago by Eye Weekly writer Edward Keenan.

This, he says, is his favourite part of his job: “I love my constituents. They are second only to my family in my heart.” By that standard, there’s been a lot of loving in his day so far: 8:30am at a roach-infested apartment on Kipling to mediate a landlord-tenant dispute; 9am and 9:30am at two places on Bergamot to deal with more tenant complaints; 10:30am on Golfwood Heights to help a guy whose backyard is being flooded by a city-owned drainage ditch; 11am down the street on View Green to meet a woman upset that the crossing guard has moved down the street from the end of her block. Later, he’ll chat with a man who wants Urdu language books at the local library and meet staff from three different city departments at the home of a man with multiple complaints about the state of his neighbour’s property.

Sometimes Ford can get his constituents’ complaints resolved and sometimes not. Either way, he feels this — not the blustering at city hall — is his job. “I always tell my constituents, ‘Call my office first; I will find the right people,'” he says, “They’re hard-working people, so I try to go to bat for everyone.”

He returns every call to his office personally, often within hours, and usually he’ll make a trip out to see anyone with a complaint, bringing city staffers with him.

…Rob Ford may be a raving lunatic, but he’s a raving lunatic who will come to your home and stand in the rain to ensure you get 15 minutes with the city staffer who can help you. And that, as anyone who’s tried to navigate the city hall bureaucracy will know, is no small thing.

…A deep thinker he is not, and that could be a problem for his opponents. Rob Ford only has two priorities: saving money and serving constituents. Crazy as he appears, those happen to be popular priorities. Besides, he doesn’t need to think; he’s out impressing the voters every day with his actions.

The people who want to beat him might want to start thinking about that.

— Keenan, Edward. “The Rob Ford problem.” Eye Weekly, 27 July 2006.

Rob Ford may be, as James says, a buffoon—but as Keenan makes clear, he is a buffoon that helps the Ordinary Joes in his ward get things done. And that is a legacy that his mayoral opponents may find hard to match, much less beat. It’s something they should have been working on for themselves at least four years ago.

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