Today, Rob Ford, the 64th Mayor of Toronto, died, at age 46.
To many people, Rob Ford was the infamous, bombastic, crass mayor who was surrounded by controversy both in and out of office. He will go down in history as one of Canada’s most unforgettable and notorious politicians.I knew him a bit differently, though not very well. You see, I actually lost touch with him long before he was swept into office as Mayor in 2010, and thrust into the fishbowl that is municipal politics in Toronto. The Mayor’s office at Toronto City Hall is literally like a fishbowl, with large floor-to-ceiling windows facing both the outside world and the 2nd floor of city hall.
November 14, 2000
I first met Rob Ford when he was just 32 years old, just days after he was elected as the new city councillor for Etobicoke North. It was November 2000. I worked down the hall from him in Norm Kelly’s office, who was, and still is, the city councillor for Scarborough-Agincourt.
I’d been working for Councillor Kelly on-and-off since 1997, and it was exciting to see Ford as part of this newest class of elected councillors. Days after he was sworn in, I casually strolled into his office to introduce myself and congratulate him.
He gave me one of his red-and-blue campaign fridge magnets. I recall vividly it reminded me of the campaign swag you’d have received from Eisenhower in 1956. It may have even had a couple red and blue stars on it. I can’t remember for sure.
The Rob Ford I met in November 2000 was calm, polite, gracious and respectful. He was eager to learn about the legislative process at city hall. He talked a lot about making the people who elected him proud. He recited for me his door canvassing pitch, saying, “Mike, I just explained to voters, that not all politicians are perfect, but I’m gonna try my best”. I still think that in his own, maybe flawed way, he did try his best. Who knows what terrible personal pressures come from being the mayor of a city of 2.6 million people.
I remember the cookies. It’s funny what you remember about some people.
By January 2001, he very publicly expressed his disbelief that city councillors were provided free chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies during meetings. ‘Why can’t councillors just buy their own cookies from the cafeteria downstairs at city hall?’, he asked. Though the cost of cookies was minuscule in terms of the city’s $1 billion budget, to Rob Ford it meant the world, symbolic of hard-earned tax dollars being wasted.
From then on, he took the mantle of being Canada’s most miserly politician, even buying his own stationary and stamps. By his 2nd year in office, I’d be surprised if he spent more than $7.50 out of his $50,000 office budget. Nine years before he was finally elected mayor, he already had a firm grip on the brakes of the so-called gravy train.
September 11, 2001
The last time I really spoke to him was on September 11, 2001. On that terrible day he was actually one of the calmest, composed people around. I resigned from city hall just days later, to take up a communications job at Queen’s Park in the office of the Minister of Education. I never spoke to him again until the spring of 2011, and then only briefly.
So, that’s the Rob Ford I knew. Likely quite different from the one people knew up to and during his turbulent and destructive term as Mayor from 2010-2014. What can we say about Rob Ford as Mayor? People will say quite a bit, I’m sure. But, to me he was just a young, 32-year old, newly elected councillor who wanted to try his best.
Mike Chopowick – March 22, 2016