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  November 9, 2013

TRNN REPLAY: Toronto Mayor's Scandal Shifts Focus From Poverty, Racialized Communities

Publication of new video shows mayor intoxicated and behaving erratically; video triggers more sensationalism from press
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SHAGHAYEGH TAJVIDI, TRNN PRODUCER: The city of Toronto had just a couple of days to absorb the confession of its chief magistrate, Rob Ford, to having smoked crack cocaine, when on Thursday, November 7, a new video released by the Toronto Star reveals an intoxicated mayor on an aggressive rant.


ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO: No holds barred, brother. He dies or I die, brother. [incompr.] Brother, you've never seen me fucking go [incompr.]

UNIDENTIFIED: You think so, brother?

FORD: But when he's down, yeah, I'll rip his fucking throat out, I'll poke his eyes out.


TAJVIDI: At this stage, no explanation has been given about the video. It's not connected with the drug video currently in possession by Toronto police, though this most recent discovery does raise further questions about the mayor's relationship with alcohol. On November 5, local and international attention was on City Hall as the mayor admitted after months of denial to crack cocaine use in a drunken stupor, but stated emphatically:

FORD: No. Do I? Am I an addict? No.

TAJVIDI: He returned five hours later to a room overcrowded with media to apologize and state that we must move forward. Far from taking a medical leave, as he was urged to do, he declared instead:

FORD: On October 27, 2014, I want the people of this great city to decide whether they want Rob Ford to be their mayor.

TAJVIDI: His support bases in Scarbrough and Etobicoke remain strong in spite of all that has transpired, with supporters claiming that he is, quote, delightfully human.

Outraged Torontonians, some of which have called his address on Tuesday an Oscar-worthy performance, organized a spontaneous protest at City Hall on Wednesday, November 6.

There is more pressure than ever from some councillors and, more significantly, from some of Ford's closest allies, such as conservatives Denzil Minnan-Wong and Giorgio Mammoliti, for him to step down.

DENZIL MINNAN-WONG, CITY COUNCILLOR, TORONTO: I will be amending my motion such that if the mayor decides not to take the leave of absence, that I will be requesting Council to petition the province to have him removed from office.

TAJVIDI: As of Saturday, November 9, there is growing opposition to Minnan-Wong's motion, with hints that the mayor might agree to some brief time off. After all, municipal law clearly states that a mayor can only be removed for missing too many council meetings or if he's convicted of a criminal offense. Appealing to the province for his removal is neither an easy process nor an easy sell among councillors, as it would require the Ontario government's involvement with conflict at the municipal level.

PABLO VIVANCO, EDITOR, BASICS NEWS: This is part of, actually, the problem with Canadian representative of political structures. There's no means by which the public can take Rob Ford out of office before he's done his mandate. It shows a significant loophole. And I think it demonstrates a certain level of disempowerment of the general population, when I personally don't think it's acceptable, and certainly it's not Democratic, that between that, you know, people can actually only hold politicians to account once every four years.

TAJVIDI: True to the nature of any massive political scandal, stories of Toronto's, quote, embattled mayor have piqued international attention and provoked ridicule across the networks.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE COLBERT REPORT: Rob Ford can't change the past. He can't even remember the past. I mean, what part of "drunken stupor" does the media not understand?

TAJVIDI: This all makes it hard to see past the headlines, particularly in the case of Rob Ford, who has been almost impressively mired in controversy since assuming office. Discussions of his austerity politics, privatization agenda, and his fight against public-sector workers have taken a backseat to the minute-by-minute scandal updates.

Antipoverty organizer Liisa Schofield spoke to The Real News about Ford's conservative fiscal agenda in general and its impact on housing services specifically.

LIISA SCHOFIELD, ONTARIO COALITION AGAINST POVERTY: As soon as Ford came into power, he began a concerted effort to start gutting the services within the city of Toronto. So in the 2012 budget, for instance, we saw massive proposals for gutting of services. As an antipoverty organizer, we saw cuts in shelter beds, cuts in the development of new housing, in repairs for social housing, in implementing user fees at recreation centers. It was just across the board.

TAJVIDI: Not least of all was the push from Ford's so-called tough-on-crime agenda that increases police presence on the ground, particularly in stigmatized communities.

Ironically, the mayor himself became a subject of police investigation when a massive guns-and-gangs probe by the police in the city's west end recovered the digital file of the mayor smoking crack cocaine. The operation, Project Traveler, resulted in the seizure of cash, firearms, $3 million worth of drugs, and hundreds of charges.

Two individuals, Nisar Hashimi and Hanad Mohamed, whose arrests were connected to the raids, have been charged in the shooting death of 21-year-old Anthony Smith, seen in the photo with Rob Ford that has gone viral.

KAMELIA TAYLOR, SHOOTING VICTIM'S SISTER: My house was bombarded for the past three weeks after Anthony was murdered, because you guys want a story about Rob Ford, which is not my issue. My issue is my dead brother and why he was murdered and the murderer getting penalized. And we won't answer any more questions pertaining to the mayor. That's a different situation. You guys already made it what it is, so run with your story that you already have.

TAJVIDI: Kamelia Taylor and Angela Erlington, the sister and mother, respectively, of Anthony Smith, express relief on the day that Nisar Hashimi pleaded guilty to killing Anthony. Hashimi is now serving a nine-year sentence for manslaughter. Hanad Mohammed awaits trial.

The Real News spoke to Basics editor and former executive assistant at City Hall Pablo Vivanco, who has been documenting uncomfortable truths behind the Ford scandal, such as the consequences for these young men from racial and socioeconomically marginalized communities. They too have been implicated in the saga and have been largely overlooked by mainstream media.

VIVANCO: The level of attention that Ford and his allies gave early on into his administration, when they were really trying to push a slash-and-burn agenda, when they were trying to balance the city's books on the backs of lower-income communities by attacking a lot of the social programs that take place predominantly, like, in the priority neighborhoods, as, I mean, they're called in the city, there was a lot of attention towards the so-called hug-a-thug programs, and Ford warned us, saying that the city shouldn't be spending money on these levels of programs. It's ironic that, actually, one of the programs that he attacked the most were the programs that were actually interventions into substance abuse.

Part of this is interwoven into the entire story about drugs in this country, the number of East African youth that are going out and people that are going out to Alberta, working out in the oil fields and in those areas, getting caught up in the drug industry over there, getting killed out over there, or getting caught up in stuff over here. Like, I mean, a lot of the youth that have been killed in Toronto over the last couple of years seem to have that same sort of profile. These are things which are actually being glossed over.

TAJVIDI: And that's not all that has been glossed over. Ford's crafted image as an everyman keeps the focus on his populism. As an owner of his family's multimillion-dollar business, Ford's wealth and his fight against organized labor and its gains contradicts the idea that he faces the same challenges of the average citizen he claims to represent.

VIVANCO: He said, I'm not the representative of the rich guy; I'm representative of the poor guy. A lot of people listen to that are going to find that sort of rhetoric in these times refreshing. Obviously, it's hollow, because, you know, if you dig a little deeper and look into this man who's not a member of the working class, he's a millionaire himself. And again, as we were talking about, a lot of the stuff that he's been doing, particularly as a mayor, reflect the fact that he is a typical politician--dishonest, hypocritical, got shady dealings in the background that he's obviously not willing to recognize.

TAJVIDI: The political divide between downtown citydwellers and those in the suburbs has become more apparently lately, since police confirmed the existence of the crack video one week ago. Such recent developments have not only placed the local Ford camp under heat, but do not bode well for its federal counterparts who depend on, quote, Ford Nation to secure a conservative base in Ontario.

A large rally is planned for Wednesday, November 13, outside of City Hall for Torontonians of any political stripe seeking the resignation of Mayor Ford.

For The Real News Network, Shaghayegh Tajvidi in Toronto.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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