What we do know is that Rob and Renata met during high school when they were living a couple of blocks apart. They were married in 2000 at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, one of the country’s finest golf courses and site of this past summer’s Canadian Open. Doug Holyday, Ford’s new deputy mayor, was there. Despite his long and close association with the family, Holyday says he hardly knows Renata. “I don’t even know if she has a job,” he told me.
George Spudic, a classmate of Ford’s since junior kindergarten who also attended the wedding, talks easily about his friend. “Everything you see with Robbie, he’s always been like that. He was the cheapest guy in high school. He had a football jacket he got in Grade 9, and he wore it until senior year. He always went home for lunch when he could have gone to the mall.” When it comes to Renata, however, Spudic clams up.
So why the veil of secrecy? It only makes journalists more curious—especially when Ford uses his family to burnish his image. In November, our new mayor, perhaps the only one in recent history with a mug shot, confided to the National Post that his “most relaxing” time is spent with his daughter, Stephanie, now five, and his son, Douglas, three. He added that his great escape is doing the laundry once the kids are in bed. “I divide the whites and the darks, and I’ll be folding clothes. I love it.”
Ford has also used the media to get out of sticky situations. After he was caught on tape suggesting to a fibromyalgia sufferer, “Why don’t you go on the street and score” some OxyContin, he and his handlers fed a story to the press saying he feared for his family’s safety and therefore was humouring the caller. In 2008, during a scrum following his now notorious domestic dispute, he used his daughter as armour. On the evening of March 26, the day of Renata’s 911 call, Ford stood holding Stephanie in the doorway of his mother’s home. A Star reporter asked if Renata was OK. “Yeah, everything’s fine. No problems here,” said Ford. His lawyer told the media that the previous night around 10:30 p.m., Ford himself had called 911 after walking in the door to “verbal abuse” from Renata. The lawyer added that Ford thought his wife’s behaviour was “irrational” and that he left for his mother’s house with the couple’s two children. Renata’s parents, Tadeusz and Henryka Brejniak, later told a reporter their daughter was seeing a doctor and “getting help.” When reporters wanted to talk to Renata, Henryka said, “There’s no way she can talk. She’s so upset.”
Ford was charged with assault and threatening death. The case went to court about two months later, but the Crown withdrew both charges, citing inconsistencies in Renata’s statements. Two years later, mysterious signs popped up on University Avenue: “Wife-beating, racist drunk for mayor!” To the media, Ford said, “I never laid a hand on my wife.” Within weeks, he was elected mayor, with Renata standing by his side.
While the human race keeps evolving, the particular species known as the political wife hasn’t. Some retrograde rule (or modern marketing guru) requires wives to stand by their men no matter what. Eliot Spitzer’s wife did, after he was caught in a prostitution ring. (Her story helped inspire the popular new TV show The Good Wife.) So did the late Elizabeth Edwards, at least initially, after her husband fathered a child with his mistress. Renata may have stood by her man on election night, but then she quickly retreated.