Seven crazy things we learned from Crazy Town, Robyn Doolittle’s new book about Rob Ford
Today is the day the public can finally buy Crazy Town, the much-anticipated book-length treatment of Rob Ford’s mayoralty, as told by the person who uncovered many of the scandalous details: the Toronto Star‘s Robyn Doolittle.
It’s a worthwhile read for anyone interested in finding out why Rob Ford is the way he is. Not since Marci McDonald’s Toronto Life feature, “The Incredible Shrinking Mayor,” have we had such a detailed portrait of the entire Ford family—and if there’s one thing the book makes clear, it’s that the mayor can’t truly be understood outside the context of his tight-knit, sometimes dysfunctional clan.
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There’s also a wealth of information about exactly how the Star went about trying to lift the lid on Rob Ford’s secretive world. There are no follow-the-money moments, but the book has a dramatic quality that makes it compelling. And no matter what, after its author’s publicity blitz is over, Crazy Town is bound to be a go-to resource for any future historians tasked with figuring out just what exactly happened in Toronto between 2010 and 2014—and possibly 2018. Good luck to them.
For the time being, though, here are seven things we learned about the mayor from Crazy Town that we didn’t know already. For the rest, buy the book.
1. Doug Ford Sr. once polygraphed all his kids
We already knew that Doug Ford Sr.—Rob and Doug Ford’s late father—was a self-made businessman with a disciplinarian streak, but Doolittle’s anecdotes reveal the elder Ford’s overbearing side.
In 1998, according to Dolittle, Doug Ford Sr. had all his children take a lie detector test. Rob and Doug Jr. participated, and so did their siblings, Kathy and Randy Ford, both of whom had struggled with substance issues. Ennio Stirpe, Kathy’s husband at the time, also allowed himself to be hooked up to the machine. Ford Sr. was trying to determine who had stolen a tin can of cash he kept hidden in the basement of the family home.
Kathy and Stirpe failed the test, and broke up afterward. The end of the story is well known to anyone versed in Ford lore: a few months later, Stirpe murdered Kathy’s boyfriend with a shotgun.
2. Getting into politics was Doug Jr.’s idea
Conventional wisdom has it that Doug Ford Sr.’s stint as an MPP is what inspired Rob and Doug Jr. to get into city politics. According to Doolittle’s sources, the reverse is true. She traces the Ford family’s political ambitions to 1994, when Doug Jr. volunteered to work on Doug Holyday’s successful campaign for mayor in pre-amalgamation Etobicoke. Doolittle writes that Doug Sr. ran for provincial parliament the following year at Doug Jr.’s urging.
Despite his interest in politics, Doug Jr. wasn’t able to run for city council until 15 years later, because he was busy running the family label company. The book has some revealing things to say about how Doug’s thwarted political hopes would ultimately shape his relationship with brother Rob.
3. Rob Ford’s mayoral run was years in the making
Doolittle writes about a meeting between John Tory and the Ford family in 2003, when Tory was in the early stages of planning his run for mayor of Toronto. After promising to help Tory win Etobicoke, Diane Ford, Rob’s mother, apparently said: “You’ll serve for a period of time, and then it will be Robbie’s turn.” Hubris aside, she was half right.
4. Rob Ford may have started using hard drugs in 2006
Doolittle’s sources told her that after Doug Ford Sr. died of cancer in 2006, Rob Ford began drinking heavily and spending time with his sister Kathy, who is believed to have still been struggling with her drug issues at the time. The book says this is when Ford began to use hard drugs and prescription pills in earnest, though he still preferred alcohol.
5. Right from the beginning of his mayoralty, Rob Ford’s wife was worried about his drug use
One of the book’s most incredible passages is a description of a conversation with Rob Ford’s wife Renata, secretly recorded by an acquaintance of hers shortly after Rob was elected mayor in 2010. “He still thinks he’s going to party,” Renata tells the acquaintance. “He thinks that he, oh, you know, ‘I’ll get off the pills, but I’m not giving up the blow.'” Renata is rarely photographed and never interviewed, so this kind of candid commentary from her is a big deal in itself—and that’s aside from the fact that what she said seems to lend credence to reports that the mayor has used Oxycontin while in office.
6. The Toronto Star spent a long, long time thinking about how and when to reveal what it knew
Much of the latter half of the book deals with Doolittle’s own efforts, over the course of more than a year, to make public what she knew about Rob Ford’s troubled private life. Some of the most intriguing parts deal with Doolittle’s bosses back at the Star. For instance, she writes that, in April 2012, she was ready to publish an article about how the mayor’s staff were urging him to enter rehab. The piece would have come out about a year before the crack scandal broke. Instead, she was forced to put together a watered-down version of the story after Daniel Dale’s confrontation with Ford made the Star‘s editors skittish.
Doolittle’s descriptions of meeting after meeting with the newspaper’s leadership and legal counsel effectively put the lie to the notion that the Star‘s coverage of the mayor was ever a haphazard hatchet job.
7. Doolittle’s first article about the crack video was written in a blind panic
All the Star‘s professionalism didn’t prevent it from being caught unawares on May 16, 2013, when Gawker became the first news outlet to publish a story about the existence of the Rob Ford crack video. Doolittle and Star investigative reporter Kevin Donovan had seen the video about two weeks earlier, but it was only when Doolittle saw Gawker’s article (she had it called to her attention by a fellow attendee at a book launch) that she raced to the Star‘s offices and began to write. The final piece, published under a shared byline, was composed by Doolittle and Donovan, edited, and vetted by the Star‘s lawyers within three hours.