City hall insiders tell their favourite Rob Ford anecdotes
Most of us knew Rob Ford almost exclusively through the salacious headlines he generated on a daily (and sometimes more than daily) basis. In the hours after his death, as his outsized reputation passed into legend, we tracked down a handful of people who knew, worked with or opposed him during his years as mayor. Here, their favourite Rob Ford anecdotes.
Adam Vaughan: Member of parliament, ex–city councillor and Rob Ford opponent
My kid and I were walking towards the elevator in city hall and we ran into Rob. I introduced my son to him, and I thought there would be some sort of a quick conversation. You know, usually politicians are pretty good with the small chat. And it was just quiet. We got off the elevator and my son was like, “Is he always like that?”
He was the shyest public official I’ve ever met—in complete contrast to his public persona. It was almost like he summoned all his courage to present in public. In private, he seemed exhausted by it.
Adrienne Batra: Editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun and Rob Ford’s former press secretary
During the 2010 campaign, a report about immigration patterns came out and Rob was asked about it at a debate. He made a comment to the effect of, “We need to worry about the 2.6 million Torontonians before we worry about anything else.” His opponents completely lost their minds. They called him all sorts of names, said he needed to apologize and retract that statement, and even held a rally in Nathan Phillips Square. But what we heard on the ground from Torontonians from all walks of life was, “You’re right on, Rob.” Rob had his finger on the pulse. The reason he did was because he actually talked to people. He answered his phone—something a lot of people criticized him for and said was inefficient. He had that common touch.
Robyn Doolittle: Globe and Mail journalist and author of Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story
The first time I substantially dealt with Rob Ford was in my early days as a city hall reporter, before he announced he was planning to run for mayor. I had covered his domestic abuse case while I was a police reporter, but I was fresh on the city hall beat, and all I really knew about Rob Ford at that point was that he was a good guy to call if I wanted an angry quote about David Miller.
I don’t even remember what the story was about, but I phoned his office, left a message, and he phoned back within 10 minutes. It was the fastest an elected official or person of authority had ever called back, and he had this perfect quote for the story—just the right amount of anger that I needed to illustrate the opposition to whatever Miller was proposing. And then he was like, “Okay, we’re good?” And he hung up the phone. It was classic Rob Ford. At the end of the day, that’s what he was known for: returning calls.
John Filion: City councillor and author of The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford
I used to try to have conversations with him and it was almost impossible to find a subject to talk to him about. One day, at the suggestion of councillor Joe Mihevc, I asked Rob, “Do you want to join our football pool?” We didn’t even have a football pool, and I know virtually nothing about football. But he was like, “Yeah, buddy! I’ll join your football pool.” So we became friends. I’d call Rob every Sunday morning to get his picks, and he’d talk to me about his kids while he was putting them into their car seats. So we got to know each other, all because of this football pool. I was perhaps, other than his brother, the person he was closest to on council.
I was also the councillor who thought up how to remove Rob’s powers, and I executed that plan. At first, of course, Rob was very angry about that. It hurt him a lot and publicly humiliated him. I certainly didn’t want him to feel those things, but that was the unfortunate byproduct of my motion. He didn’t speak to me for a couple of months. But then he really wanted to re-establish the relationship; it was more important to him than staying mad at me. People think of Rob as a confrontational guy who wanted to fight with everybody, but I can’t think of anyone else on council who would have made that peace offering. That’s just an example of how complicated he was.
Joe Mihevc: City councillor and Rob Ford opponent
At 9:30 a.m., on the morning Rob Ford was about to go to court to fight conflict-of-interest allegations that could have ended his mayoralty, he called me. He didn’t want to talk about the court case. He just wanted to bug me to get my football bet in before the game. That was Rob. He would have been more appropriately employed as a football coach, because he loved the game and he loved the camaraderie that came with the game. Football was our island, where we could get into guy banter and find friendship.
Tom Beyer: Rob Ford’s longest-serving mayoral staff member
I met Rob in 2003 at a mutual friend’s place. I helped him get elected mayor and later managed his social media and worked at the front-office reception. He was a different guy than the taciturn meanie that some people made him out to be. He was extremely supportive of endeavours no one else would support. I remember I met the civic activist Dave Meslin at the Rex after work one night. We’re both huge music fans, and we said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have a city hall band?” I brought the idea to some of the other folks in the office, but they were completely against it. They distrusted the left-wing councillors so much that they didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone they deemed opposition. So I brought it to Rob. He loved it.
Dave and I put a band together: the Clamshell Quintet. It brought together councillors from the left and the right. It was me, Dave, Gary Crawford, Maria Augimeri, Mike Layton and Paula Fletcher—and you can’t get any more left than Paula. We arranged our first charity gig at a Variety Village in Scarborough. To give you an idea of how much commitment Rob had to the project, he came that first night and introduced the band. Not one other staffer showed up. It really said something.
Gary Crawford: City councillor who once painted Rob Ford’s portrait
On a Saturday at around six in the evening, he called me up with his typical, “Hey buddy, what are you up to?” He said he was just heading out to a Christmas party at [former federal finance minister] Jim Flaherty’s house. On the ride over, we didn’t talk politics. He wasn’t interested in politics. We talked football. I told him about my family and he told me about his. He was mayor, but he wasn’t too preoccupied with that mayoral image.
Doug Holyday: Ex-city councillor, ex-MPP and Rob Ford’s first deputy mayor
The last time I saw him, a few months ago, he seemed to be recovering. It was at a kids’ soccer game in Centennial Park. My granddaughter sometimes plays against his daughter. I sat down and had a little chat with him. Rob was really coming around, at that time. He was wearing his track suit, but he looked good. He looked like he was winning. That’s the last memory that I have of Rob, and I’d like to keep that memory.
Norm Kelly: City councillor, social media phenom, and Rob Ford’s second deputy mayor
He called me one day and asked if I would serve as his deputy mayor. I said yes, and he said, “Come up to Ford Fest and I’ll announce it there.” So that evening I went to Ford Fest, at Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough, and they had a big tent set up, and Rob was being photographed with all the people that were attending the picnic. When he was finished, he joined everyone else at the main tent. When he announced me as his deputy mayor, he had a huge smile on his face. I just had the feeling that he felt very comfortable in Scarborough. If there’s anyone in political life who felt he had a purpose, it was Rob Ford.