Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, plunged into a scandal over his crack use, is a colorful character, known as much for his drunken public antics as for his populist anti-tax stance.
In confessing to having once smoked crack cocaine — albeit “probably in one of my drunken stupors” — the rambunctious mayor of Canada’s largest city appeared unusually contrite.
Since he was elected in 2010, Rob Ford has starred in multiple escapades, most linked to his admitted abuse of alcohol.
Born on May 28, 1969 in a suburb of Toronto, a commercial and financial hub on the shores of Lake Ontario, Ford is the youngest of two brothers and a sister in a relatively wealthy family.
His older brother Doug is his most loyal supporter at the municipal council, where they are separated by just a few chairs.
The symbiosis between the two brothers is so strong, Canadian author Margaret Atwood described him as the “Twin Ford mayor.”
As a young man, Ford was more interested in going out with his friends than in his studies.
He dreamt of becoming a professional footballer, before ultimately resigning himself to a role as coach for his high school’s team for a good ten years and working at his father’s label printing firm.
But soon the political bug struck, and at 28 years old, he ran for the first time for Toronto’s municipal council. He won a seat three years later and was elected mayor a decade later.
As a politician, Ford’s strategy has been to promote a populist agenda. Strongly linked to the right, like his father, he is close to the conservatives at both the federal and provincial levels.
At the heart of his agenda is a populist defense of city taxpayers, a stance that has won him diehard support among a section of sub-urban voters now jokingly dubbed the “Ford Nation.”
After he was caught reading work documents while driving his own car, police encouraged him to accept a driver for his own security and the safety of others on the road.
“I think that’s a waste of taxpayer’s money,” the mayor retorted. “A million people a day go to work in the city and they drive. They drive themselves. I don’t see why I am any different.”
Ford still drives his own car — even after “a few beers” — as occurred last summer when he drove himself to a city festival.
His many binges — he was once found wandering the corridors of city hall carrying a half empty bottle of booze after hosting a Saint Patrick’s Day party in his office — have made him a target.
But he has steadfastly brushed off criticism, along with drunk driving and marijuana possession charges in Florida during a break from his 1999 mayoral campaign.
With an imposing husky frame and small eyes sunken in a round, pink baby face, the mayor has become known for his cheekiness, but also Homeric outbursts.
He has arm-wrestled professional grappler Hulk Hogan (and won) and also pushed back reporters from his driveway or others who got too close, while shouting at them.
Fishing in his native Ontario province’s many lakes and rivers may be his only escape.
The admission of crack use may be Ford’s most embarrassing crisis to date but he says he believes in redemption.
His polling numbers remain strong and he pledged to win back the trust and support of Torontonians ahead of his next year’s re-election bid — for the good of the taxpayers.
[Image of Mayor Rob Ford via Shutterstock.com]