Rob Ford, Toronto's Controversial But Complicated Ex-Mayor, Is In Grave Condition

A fellow politician reflects on Ford's political career, which has always defied critics and expectations.

WASHINGTON -- Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been in the hospital in grave condition.

For the past year and a half, Ford has battled an aggressive form of soft-tissue cancer, and in the past few months underwent chemotherapy for tumors on his bladder.

In a statement Thursday evening, his family didn't shed light on his prognosis, but said they were with him at the hospital and asked for privacy.

Currently a city councilman, Ford is and will forever be known for his tumultuous tenure as mayor of Canada's largest city. His drug use, in particular, made him a controversial figure and an easy target for comedians.

But he has had remarkable perseverance as a politician. As his opponent in a 2014 council race, Andray Domise, recounted in an interview several weeks ago with Candidate Confessional, Ford's constituents felt an emotional bond with him in a way that seemed almost unassailable.

Domise saw Ford and his brother Doug, also a politician, as the Canadian equivalent of the Daley family, which ruled over Chicago despite clouds of corruption always looming nearby.

But the better analogy was to Marion Barry, the former D.C. mayor who, like Ford, was caught on tape smoking crack. Indeed, when Ford's scandal blew up (after Gawker reported about a cellphone video featuring him smoking crack), reporters couldn’t resist drawing out the comparison.

The day after the Ford story broke, the Washington City Paper asked Barry to comment. He didn't have much to say, arguing simply that the circumstances were different. Barry had always maintained that his video was the result of an obsessive FBI that entrapped him. It didn’t matter. The New York Post would call the former D.C. mayor the “original Rob Ford.”

Ford’s all-too-human moment seemed too painful for Barry to stomach. Barry had continued to struggle with drugs and never seemed all that comfortable or introspective when talking about his own decades old video. Toward the end of his life, Barry came out with a book and during interviews to promote it, he took questions about Ford. But he still resented the comparison.

"He’s not connected to me," Barry told Dave Weigel. "He doesn't have my historical record of achievement. My record is so far better. As far as his use of drugs and alcohol, he's making a fool of himself.”

Barry probably had more pressing things to do than carefully study Ford’s political appeal. But as Domise noted, the similarities between Ford and Barry did not begin and end with crack-smoking videos.

Both survived their scandals because they were adept at voicing the anger of the working class and the poor, and savvy at handling the media circus. Barry won a new term as mayor after his prison stint. He later retreated to a seat on the city council and remained in office until his death in November 2014.

Ford ended up running for city council in an area loyal to him -- a place the press called Ford Nation -- and was thinking of running for mayor again.

In explaining Ford's remarkable staying power, Domise said residents were reluctant to vote out a politician who spoke up for them -- despite pursuing policies that were against their own interests. He went so far as to compare Ford to Bill Cosby or R. Kelly, “people who developed really good reputations within the community they belonged to and then did something horrifically wrong; there's a lot of people who are just reluctant to let that go.”

“They say, ‘Well you've got to separate the person from their profession,’ Domise said. “'You have to separate Rob Ford the person from Rob Ford the politician.’"

Towards the end of the interview, we asked Domise whether he thought Toronto's Ward Two would ever break free from the Ford family's influence. He paused a bit to think about the implications of the question. And then he gave a brutally honest answer.

“I don’t think the area is ever going to break free of the Fords until the Fords themselves decide that this is no longer enough for them,” he said.

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