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The weirdest mayoralty ever—the inside story of Rob Ford’s city hall

Rob Ford | The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

For the Fords, their father’s rags-to-riches saga lies at the heart of the family mythology—a narrative of true grit that Rob Ford has adopted as part of his own political persona. Whenever he talks about growing up in the shadow of all that striving, he still sounds awed, parroting the mantra of a stern but adored disciplinarian as if it continues to echo in his ear. His father “would do anything for his kids,” he says, in the staccato burst of maxims that make up his normal mode of speech. “But you gotta work, be on time, never miss a day of work. You don’t sleep in at the Fords’ house. You’re up and at it.”

Despite that strict credo of self-reliance, Ford is, in fact, a product of upper-middle-class privilege who wanted for little growing up and never had to scuffle for a job. Not long after he was born, in 1969, the baby of the family, the Fords moved into the imposing ranch-style six-bedroom house his father built at the end of a leafy cul-de-sac off Etobicoke’s Royal York Road. With a full-sized swimming pool and gardens out back that have hosted nearly a thousand visitors, it was one of the best addresses in an otherwise modest neighbourhood, party central for the Ford siblings and their friends as they were growing up.

Doug Sr. might have been careful with a dollar, but he spared no expense for his kids. When Rob dreamed of becoming a pro football player, his father sent him to a summer football camp—but not just any football camp. He was dispatched to the youth camp of the Washington Redskins, who had just won the 1983 Super Bowl with two of his heroes, star running back John Riggins and former Toronto Argonaut Joe Theismann. From there, it was on to South Bend, Indiana, and workouts at the legendary University of Notre Dame campus—an extravagant tour of gridiron nirvana beyond the wildest fantasies of your average North American teen.

That experience gave him bragging rights at Scarlett Heights Collegiate, where his determined weightlifting bulked him up enough to play centre on the school’s football team and earned him a reputation as a scrapper off the field. He yearned for stardom on some college roster, but he ended up enrolling at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he found no such glory. He won a spot on the Ravens’ offensive line but appears to have spent most of his first and only season on the bench. University officials say his coach has no memory of him, and some former players suggest he may never have dressed for a game. Although Ford scoffs at that claim, John Lindsay, an Ottawa real estate agent who recalls warming the bench with him, regards the scenario as probable. As Lindsay points out, they were vying for action against older teammates who were seasoned 300-pound hulks. “I know it might sound strange now,” Lindsay says, “but Robbie was a little guy.”

Ford was already well into the 2010 mayoralty race before it emerged that, contrary to his suggestions to a Toronto Star reporter, he had never actually graduated from Carleton. At first an aide claimed that he’d left Ottawa “two credits short of earning a degree,” but soon it became clear that he had dropped out much earlier. Shortly after his first lacklustre football season, he was back home, where a job was waiting on the DECO sales staff. In a family where none of the four siblings has completed a post-secondary degree, that lack of academic credentials did not prevent him from later being named the company’s chief financial officer.

Now Ford will say only that he was summoned home from Carleton to help run the family business—“There were some issues I had to deal with,” he says cryptically—but two years ago a spokesman explained that he’d come back to help his sister, Kathy, a recovering heroin addict, who “fell upon hard times.” A hint of those hard times surfaced in 1998 when her former common-law husband, Ennio Stirpe, the father of her son, arrived at the Caledon house she was sharing with a new boyfriend and killed him with a sawed-off shotgun. Eleven years later, Stirpe had just gotten out of jail after serving two thirds of his manslaughter sentence when he ran afoul of the law again, knifing a girlfriend so savagely she was blinded in one eye. “Ford’s ex-in-law convicted in stabbing,” proclaimed one headline last December—an attempt to link the mayor to the attack that might have seemed unnecessarily sensationalist at the time. Then, within weeks, another incident in Kathy Ford’s turbulent love life brought patrol cars screeching to her brother’s doorstep.

Early one morning in January, Ford’s neighbours allegedly saw a convicted drug dealer named Scott MacIntyre trying to force his way into the mayor’s grey-brick bungalow near Scarlett Road. Agitated about his recent breakup with Ford’s sister, MacIntyre claimed he only wanted to talk to the mayor about retrieving his belongings, but he was charged with uttering death threats, forcible entry and possession of heroin and cocaine. Among reporters on the police beat, his name rang a bell. As it turned out, MacIntyre was the same boyfriend who, during a 2005 party at Kathy’s parents’ house, accidentally “shot the top of her head off,” as Ford put it, requiring her to undergo plastic surgery. Their parents, who had been holidaying in Florida, rushed back to Kathy’s bedside. Eventually, police dropped charges against MacIntyre, who appears to have called 911 before fleeing in Diane Ford’s black Jaguar. “Our family has been through everything—from murder to drugs to being successful in business,” the mayor later told a reporter. “Nobody can tell me a story that can shock.”

Through it all, the family has rallied around the mayor’s sister, building her an apartment on their parents’ property and administering a million-dollar trust fund their father set up for her. “We all backed Kathy 100 per cent,” Ford once explained. “Maybe what she was doing was wrong, but you don’t just throw people out into the street for doing the wrong stuff.”

All four siblings still live within a few miles of the Etobicoke house in which they were raised and a short drive from the family firm where all have spent the majority of their working lives. Fiercely protective, they have a history of circling the wagons at the first sign of trouble—one that helps explain some of the secrecy and insularity Ford has brought to city hall. “The Fords don’t trust anyone,” says the mayor’s former chief of staff, Nick Kouvalis. “They just don’t.”

  • Torontonian

    Part of the problem with our current city council is that 1/2 those on council are determined that no matter what Ford does or says, they have to disagree. If he were to say water is wet, they would immediately take an opposing view. Council is disfunctional as a result, and there is no opportunity to reach a consensus on any item the Mayor champions, whether it is good for the city or not.

  • I.M. Fletcher

    Great article, Marci!

    We’re well aware of what Ford stand against (gravy! taxes! streetcars!), but I don’t get a sense of what he stands for. My idea of a mayor is someone who has a vision for the city they love, and can articulate it at a moment’s notice. Acknowledge the failings, but have ideas (or listen to others’ ideas) on how can we make it better together in a way that benefits as much of the city as possible. Topical example: for less money than it would cost to extend the Sheppard subway line, we could have LRT lines on Eglinton, Sheppard E., and Finch W., benefitting tens of thousands more people.

  • Ella

    Bravo to Toronto life!
    I am enjoying reading this. All 12 pages! I love that there is a place for in depth, well-researched and considered articles. As for the other person that commented, there are people on council that will agree with anything the mayor says or does (Doug Hall, Doug, Hollydale, Georgio).
    The Mayor has ideas that are not considered or research and he wants people to vote. He doesn’t like the 5 cent grocery bag surcharge. He doesn’t care about the environment or waste or good reason, we are expected to agree with him just because it is HIS opinion.

  • Martin

    @Torontonian, seriously. If Rob Fvcking Ford weren’t always so wrong, you’d find a whole lot more people on council agreeing with him. Thank gawd there are people there that will call him on his bullsh*t.

  • Mort D. Fame

    All this was covered by Seinfeld when George decided to do the “opposite”. The “opposite” was the right thing to do…….and this is how we should react to Mayor Ford. Anything he suggests, we should embrace the opposite and we will be right.

  • James

    Rob Ford, Doug Ford, and their shrinking coterie of hangers – on are an embarrassment of international proportions to Toronto. Their brain pans are far too small to provide the kind of leadership that our wonderful city requires. Unfortunately, we had already invited the world to visit us (Pan Am Games, World Pride 2014) to a city we were proud to show off – - proud, that is, before the Ford era started making everything that was wonderful the subject of small and petty ideological, not to mention untruthful, arguement. We are going to be ashamed before the world.

  • Jen

    @Torontonian – in the exact same way you accuse 1/2 the council of blindly opposing the mayors ideas, you failed to mention the litany of others who blindly support every idiotic idea that falls out of his mouth!

    He also has an entire ‘newspaper’ supporting him blindly in the Toronto Sun, and an entire radio show supporting him blindly on 1010. He’s a big boy who can, and should be able to handle his opponents.

    I’m so SICK of hearing Rob Ford and his lackeys complain about the public scrutiny around him, when his entire campaign and all of his platforms were designed to stir up controversy and deal exclusively in right-leaning extremes. It’s as if he expected the city to fall at his feet immediately after the election! He should learn to win people over with logic instead of brash vulgarity

  • Marc

    Great article. I agree with a previous comment – it’s nice to read a well-researched, measured piece – not a scattershot of editorial opinion. Nice work.

  • Torontonian

    Fair point – yes, there are those who blindly follow him as well, and they deserve equal criticism. The fact remains though that with everyone on council apparently picking a side and sticking to it, there is seemingly no room remaining to actually focus on what’s best for the city. There are flaws on both sides of council, and it’s a shame that there are sides at all.

    I certainly don’t agree with everything (ok, most things) that Mayor Ford proposes. But the reality is that if anyone in the media had undertaken this kind of critical analysis (above article) during the election we might have had a different outcome. And while the Sun may firmly cheerlead for Ford, the Star does a bang up job in the opposite direction…

  • iwill

    Here’s to Rob Ford winning another election! Keep up the good work Rob.

  • Kim

    It pains me that so many intelligent people waste their time and energy trying to understand Rob Ford. Let’s just call a spade a spade and devote our energy to more worthwhile causes. It’s unfortunate that he got elected and now we just have to bide our time until he’s gone and hopefully the person who takes over will right the wrongs that Ford has gotten away with. What I’m trying to say is that he isn’t worthy of the attention he is getting. Yes, he’s a moron and yes he has bad ideas and doesn’t know what he’s doing, but talking about him, writing about him and analyzing him ad nauseam won’t change anything. In fact, it probably makes a jackass like Ford feel really important and special; two things he is not.

  • Caligari

    It’s very unmayor-like and low-class for a sitting mayor to have a radio call-in show at all; it’s something you might expect in a hick town, but not in Canada’s largest city. Is Rob Ford in fact Mayor Tommy Shanks of Melonville?

  • Phil Resch

    @Torontonian … What people keep forgetting to take into account – about the divisiveness of Council – is that it is the Mayor’s job to make Council work. They Mayor is the leader. A leader’s job is to find compromise, to find a way to appease Council members who are doing their best to represent their respective Wards. To use a sports analogy, when a team loses it’s cohesion and is losing games because of that, the coach (leader) is fired and replaced with one that came make the team act as, well, a team.

  • scottd

    Toronto needs a full time mayor. If any of the dim wits who voted for him had ever bothered to follow City politics at all for the previous 10 years they would have known that Ford is a huge slacker when it comes to the vision thing.

  • Harold

    Seems enough people of Toronto decided that no one should be making a decent wage or any benefits if they work for Toronto.
    And elected a clown who should have been booted from council years ago , let alone become Mayor to do what Conservatives do best, and that is slash and burn jobs and services and continue raising taxes.

    Interestingly though this new Ford appointment for T.T.C. chair Stintz is a clown as well expecting Torontonians to absorb a 30 billion tax cost for her proposal, all the while the former Webster was fired and handed a 500,000 platinum handshake to leave when he had less than a year left in his contract and would have retired ( saving ) the Toronto taxpayers half a mill.
    The Circus continues…..

  • not living in TO

    Very good article – really knew nothing about him. The family problems aside – I don’t think he has the makings of a leader. A leader cannot bully to get his way – it does not work. I hope all residents read the article and realize the error in electing him as mayor. Maybe his mom should run LOL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Dreibelbis/551526113 Daniel Dreibelbis

    lately it seems he’s been less Mayor Tommy Shanks and more The Kids In The Hall’s Mayor Larry Buckman.

  • loveliving

    Rob Ford is a privileged white man who should not have even been allowed to run for Mayor in the first place. What person in this age, can be allowed to hold such a high position in a city of this size and economic stature without having college or university degree in business or law or a profession that is relevant to the position. The amount of mistakes he has made is what is “ridiculous.” I am afraid that as a city we have failed and I am wondering why things have to get so bad in Toronto before the media has spoken out. Where’s the exposé about the Ford cronyism and gang of backers who want to control the waterfront, potential subway contracts and now the casino. Why didn’t we hear about his constant disappearance from official city business. Why is the media only now talking about his obviously substance abuse problem? Why was he being propped up so long? It looks like a situation of white privilege. Even the dealers know that Rob Ford should not be Mayor. I only hope that Toronto votes properly next time, we need someone who has some credentials. We need some diversity. Time to give others a shot.

  • http://twitter.com/NadineLumley Nadine Lumley Real

    “Ford, Hudak and Harper: A trifecta cabal of
    republican-style, right wingers.”

    Our Prime Minister Stealin’ HarperCon was behind Ford’s
    appointment.

    And Mike Harris as well was behind Ford’s campaign (Rob
    Ford’s dad used to work for Mike Harris).
    With help from Guy Giorno, who happens to be Harper’s ex-Chief of Staff
    - and Guy Giorno used to be chief of
    staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris.
    Guy Giorno was also the campaign manager in May 2011 during Harper’s
    infamous Robocall scanadal. Makes you go
    hmmmm.

    Are you starting to notice a neocon circle jerk going on
    here?

    http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/428557

  • user xyyyz

    Every politician in Canada, federal, provincial, municipal should be required to have a drug test annually. If they fail they are gone. My 2¢

  • Vote Ndp

    I hope the TPS will be ready to arrest ex mayor Ford and admit him into rehab. once admitted, dont let him out until he’s clean and doesn’t have anymore psychiatric issues.

  • Well now

    Wow.
    Some sanity and light on this subject at last. Excellent journalism! Excellent
    writing! I would differ on a couple of points.

    The total lack of leadership did not result in a vacuum, per say. RF filled it with
    illegal activities, to what extent we do not know. Instead of a nice clean
    vacuum we have a horrid gory soul-destroying nation-wide mess.

    And for some reason the hands of the police and the justice system are tied. That
    is, just as council let itself be bullied, and after that then tried to keep up
    the pretense that all was ‘really OK’, so too the police could not arrest /
    stop RF when they had the chance. (Another topic which needs your analytic skills???
    :)

    As well, I do not think RF is capable of developing strategy. (Like a toddler he
    goes from one instance of instant gratification to another.) Instead, he
    stumbles on a set of phrases which a group of people like and he keeps
    repeating them. So now we have ‘the great divide’.

    There has been an ubiquitous pervasive, council wide, city wide and nation wide blindness happening. Because, really, how could we have ever imagined or believed such a deranged person could rise so high in politics, in this country?

    But it happened with the help of unlimited financial resources and various ego maniacs ganging up together to use one another. If council does not pull together on Wednesday to remove RF, then we will have gotten what we deserve.

  • Well now

    Wow.
    Some sanity and light on this subject at last. Excellent journalism! Excellent
    writing! I would differ on a couple of minor points, with the benefit of hindsight of course.

    The total lack of leadership did not result in a vacuum, per say. RF filled it with
    illegal activities, to what extent we do not know. Instead of a nice clean
    vacuum we have a horrid gory soul-destroying country-wide mess.

    And for some reason the hands of the police and the justice system are tied. That
    is, just as council let itself be bullied, and after that then tried to keep up
    the pretense that all was ‘really OK’, so too the police cannot seem to arrest /
    stop RF. Maybe he’s too close to Harper?

    As well, I do not think RF is capable of developing strategy. (Like a toddler he
    goes from one instance of instant gratification to another.) Instead, he
    stumbles on a set of phrases which a group of people like and he keeps
    repeating them. So now we have ‘the great divide’.

    There has been an ubiquitous, pervasive, council wide, city wide and nation wide blindness happening re RF. Because, really, how could we have ever imagined or believed such a deranged person could rise so high in politics, in this country?

    But it happened with the help of unlimited financial resources and various ego maniacs ganging up together to use one another. If council does not pull together on Wednesday to remove RF, then we will have gotten what we deserve.

  • Mark Spark

    Do you even know what a neocon is? Do you think Rob Ford checks with Washington and Tel Aviv before he decides to privatize garbage collection?

 

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