Five things we learned about the workings of Rob Ford’s inner circle from the Globe and Mail

Five things we learned about the workings of Rob Ford’s inner circle from the Globe and Mail

(Image: Christopher Drost)

Based on Rob Ford’s habitual muteness and flights into gaffe territory, sometimes we wonder if his camp has any communications strategy at all. Not true, according to Globe and Mail city hall bureau chief Kelly Grant, who got her hands on over 150 pages of internal memos from Ford’s office (through a Freedom of Information Act request—they weren’t volunteered). The memos span from when Ford took power until May of this year and formed the basis for Grant’s revealing account of the mayor’s press strategy in Saturday’s paper. Here’s a look at five things we learned from the piece (including why Ford’s council allies seem to act as his spokespeople):

1. Talking point memos go to a select group of recipients
The memos Grant obtained contain talking points that helped Ford’s team and allies send out a consistent message. They were generated by the mayor’s policy chief Mark Towhey, current press secretary George Christopoulos or former press secretary turned Toronto Sun scribe Adrienne Batra (Ford signs off on memos that include a direct quote from him, but not necessarily the others). The memos went to executive members and council supporters, often to talk radio—Ford’s media comfort zone—and, rarely, reporters.

2. The team was in fine form during Ford’s early days in office and labour victories
According to Grant, there are nine memos leading up to Ford’s victorious labour deals, and they show his office “at their most organized and disciplined.” Team Ford was also in good form during the core services review last July when it had carefully crafted talking points and backgrounders, well-prepped spokespeople and coordinated leaks to different news outlets.

3. …but the script was blank when the mayor faced big losses
As the mayor’s power over council petered out, the organized communications strategy also broke down. From early February (when his underground-only preference was crushed) to late March (when the mayor’s Sheppard subway extension proposal was vanquished), there wasn’t a single talking point on the routing of Ford’s transit vision—and his lack of communication netted him some criticism.

4. Ford’s gaffe strategy: keep mum and carry on
When faced with a Fordian faux-pas, the communications team typically leans toward what Grant calls a “no-comment policy.” Of Ford’s many many blunders, the only one to get a talking points memo was when Ford was spotted talking on his cellphone while driving. Even outside the realm of slip-ups, Ford’s team tends to delay official comments. For example, when Karen Stintz revealed the OneCity plan, Ford wasn’t available and Denzil Minnan-Wong spoke on the mayor’s behalf.

5. Ford likes to let councillors deliver his messages
Ford often lets his executive team and council allies do the talking, a strategy that Towhey believes has worked. He contends that the mayor has a good “top-level view” of the issues, “but the councillors who are leading those files, they deserve a chance to be the spokesperson on it.” However, Grant suggests this often leads to confusion over whether the councillors are speaking for the mayor, themselves or both.

Messaging and memos: An inside look at the Ford Nation playbook [Globe and Mail]