The Sad Case of Rob Ford

Toronto from the CN Tower.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Toronto from the CN Tower. Photo by Callen Harty.

When a celebrity falls from grace it provides plenty of fodder for comedians. When a politician does it the comedians have at them, usually with vicious satire, and the politician also gets it from the news commentators, as well as their political enemies. And when that fall involves hypocrisy, such as a politician who espouses family values getting caught with a prostitute, there is no mercy. Right now the late night talk shows, comedy shows, and news are all abuzz with the story of conservative Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

For the last year Ford has been fending off accusations of cocaine or crack use, denying the rumors and stories. A while back it was reported that some people had seen a video that showed the mayor smoking from a crack pipe. He continued to deny it, claiming that political enemies were trying to destroy him. Recently the video resurfaced and according to Toronto police appeared to show the mayor lighting and smoking from a crack pipe. After initially denying it Ford finally admitted that he had smoked crack cocaine, but said it was probably during one of his drunken stupors. Such a statement lends itself to making the comedy writer’s job much easier. Just today another video surfaced showing a very drunken Rob Ford using profanity and threatening to kill someone and likely all the commentators will have another field day with it.

But Rob Ford has a serious problem and that problem is not his political future.

A Wikipedia article on the mayor has a litany of incidents involving the mayor’s issues with drugs and alcohol. Highlights include the following:
1999: Ford was arrested in Florida for DUI (driving under the influence). He was also found in possession of marijuana, but that charge was dropped. He pleaded no contest and was fined. He denied he was actually arrested for DUI, but later admitted it. This is a recurring pattern. He is accused of something, denies it, proof comes out, he admits it, but tiptoes around the issue and claims he wasn’t lying, but that he had accidentally omitted the whole story or honestly answered questions but reporters didn’t ask him all the questions they should have. Recovering alcoholics and those who know them will tell you that alcoholics and drug addicts get very good at lying.
2006: Ford was forcibly removed from a hockey game after insulting those around him while visibly drunk. He was removed by two security guards with dozens of witnesses there, but when first asked about it he denied even being at the game. Later he admitted it and apologized for his behavior.
2012: A staffer’s e-mail was uncovered that discussed the mayor being drunk at City Hall and later at a restaurant and further talks about him swearing, insulting staff members, and using racist language.
March, 2013: A former candidate, Sarah Thomson, accused the mayor of inappropriate remarks and touching and suggested that it seemed the mayor was high on cocaine during a photo session. Ford denied all of it.
March, 2013: Ford was asked to leave a function due once again to being drunk and the Toronto Star openly referred to the mayor’s drinking problem. Ford and his staff denied the allegations.
May, 2013: Gawker reported the existence of the video evidence of Ford smoking crack. He denied that he had done so and again accused enemies of making up lies about him.
August, 2013: Ford was videotaped at a public event in a drunken state. He later admitted to having “a few beers” and denied he was wasted.
October, 2013: Toronto’s police chief held a press conference and stated that his department was in possession of a copy of the crack smoking video and it did indeed appear to show Ford smoking crack. Ford demanded they release the video, but didn’t come right out and deny it. A couple days later he admitted smoking crack while drunk.
November, 2013: Early in the month Ford made a half-hearted apology and noted that he may have to slow down on his drinking, but didn’t really admit to having any abuse problems. Within two days another video surfaced that showed the mayor plastered in a profanity-laced diatribe in which he talks about how he’s going to murder someone. He held a hasty news conference in which he apologized, but again didn’t really answer any questions, including from the one female reporter who kept asking him, “Mayor Ford, do you need help?” and “Mayor Ford, is it time to ask for help?”

While the mayor’s enemies have been pushing for him to resign for a while, his friends and colleagues are now starting to abandon him and also calling for his resignation. The comedians are having a field day.

The thing is, though, Ford is not just a politician caught in a political scandal. He is a human being. He is a man who clearly has a major problem with alcohol and drug abuse even though he ignored the one reporter who asked the most important question–not “When are you going to resign?’, “Who was the target of your threats?”, etc., but “Is it time to ask for help?” Although Ford walked away from her continued repetition of the questions about getting help it is clearly past time for him to ask for help. This is a man whose life has been controlled by alcohol and drugs for at least the last dozen or so years, and likely much longer. This is a man escaping demons by imbibing demons of another sort. It is a man whose career and life are spiraling downward and who doesn’t appear to be able to realize that is happening, let alone do anything to stop it.

Imagine that Ford was your son or brother or friend. Would the comedians making fun of him strike your funny bone? Likely not, because you would be watching him kill himself. Instead of a gun, pills, or jumping off a bridge he is committing suicide in a slow, incredibly painful and public way. As alcoholics know there is nothing anyone can do to help him because he is still in denial and won’t accept that there is a problem. He cannot be helped because he hasn’t acknowledged he needs help. He hasn’t hit rock bottom yet and until he does the spiral will continue even faster until he either wakes up and realizes he needs to do something or his career and life are as wasted as he is in several of the videos that have gone public. Whatever you may think of him as a politician when he is considered as a human being one has to hope that he wakes up now, before it is too late.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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