Mark Towhey just signed up for what is, by most inside accounts, the toughest, most thankless political job at city hall: Rob Ford’s chief of staff. The mayor elevated his policy advisor to the position at a meeting last night—but in many ways Towhey already occupied the post behind the scenes (and rumour has it Ford offered him the job before Amir Remtulla’s departure was even announced). Since Ford came to office, Towhey quickly emerged as the real power in the close-knit, yet increasingly undisciplined, administration. Correcting that lack of discipline—which political sources say is a monumental, if not impossible, project—will likely be a defining issue of Towhey’s tenure. Will he be able to rein in the notoriously unmanageable mayor? We’re not sure. What we do know, however, is that there are many things said in backroom conversations about Ford’s new chief babysitter. Here, five characterizations of Mark Towhey that may offer some insight into how he’ll approach his new gig.
• He’s evil
Admittedly, we probably started this one. In our May cover story, a sweeping profile of Ford by Marci McDonald, we described Towhey as something of a henchman for the mayor. After reading the feature, Towhey took to Twitter, as he is wont to do, sharing his plans for the rest of that evening—which, apparently, consisted of “…hanging out, being evil.” Bless.
• He’s smart
Political strategist and Ford administration insider Nick Kouvalis calls Towhey the smartest guy on the mayor’s team, and in McDonald’s piece she noted that many at city hall say Towhey is the one really running the show. Still, his political and government experience is lacking—which some suggest is partly responsible for the administration’s lack of discipline.
• He’s the mayor’s Rasputin
Towhey is an unpopular figure among councillors, even some of Ford’s allies, for his strong-arm political tactics (see “He’s evil,” above). He’s widely referred to as the mayor’s Rasputin, an enforcer-in-chief known for bullying, intimidating and upbraiding councillors who aren’t on board with the mayor’s core agenda.
• He’s an adamant ideologue
A true believer in the minimalist brand of government most prominently espoused by the extreme wing of the Republican party south of the border, Towhey is bent on shrinking the public sector and privatizing pretty much everything (his now-defunct blog, Coffee With Mark Towhey, courted controversy for promulgating his radically right-wing views during the 2010 mayoral race).
• He makes things happen
Towhey has a reputation outside his office for getting things done. As one high-ranking Queen’s Park politico told us, while he doesn’t agree with Towhey’s politics, Towhey is one person inside the current regime who can actually make something happen. And that’s saying something, considering Towhey’s operating in an environment that isn’t exactly, well, functional.
• Mayor Rob Ford chooses Mark Towhey as new chief of staff [Toronto Star]
• Mayor Ford’s policy guru is his new chief of staff [Globe and Mail]
• Rob Ford’s long-time strategist, Mark Towhey, promoted to chief of staff [National Post]
• Mayor Rob Ford names new chief of staff [CBC]
• Rob Ford names controversial policy director as new chief of staff [CityNews]