Like Mel Lastman before him, Rob Ford’s supporters are attracted to his no-nonsense personality, a public relations expert says.
Despite watching his name being dragged through the mud due to public indiscretions — among them a 1999 DUI charge and allegations he assaulted and uttered a death threat against his wife — Rob Ford is still the frontrunner in the race to become Toronto’s next mayor. The most recent Ipsos Reid survey, published Tuesday, shows Ford leading George Smitherman 28 per cent to 23 per cent, respectively.
Patrick Gossage, co-chair and founder of the Toronto public relations firm Media Profile, says Type-A personalities often succeed in municipal politics.
“Mayoralty campaigns are … popularity contests,” Gossage said. “It’s the basic, ‘I could have a beer with this guy,’ kind of appeal of Ford that people like.”
In late August, news broke that Ford was charged with impaired driving in Miami in 1999. The affidavit shows that the arresting officer also found a marijuana cigarette in Ford’s pocket. Ford initially denied ever being charged, but quickly confessed during an Aug. 20 press conference.
“I went for Valentine’s with my wife, and we had a couple bottles of wine,” Ford told reporters. “I wasn’t drunk, but maybe I shouldn’t have been driving. I am not perfect. I have never claimed to be perfect.”
Drug charges were dropped, and Ford pleaded no contest to the impaired charge. He paid a $665 fine and completed 50 hours community service. Gossage said Ford’s supporters may have forgiven his character flaws because of his mixture of humility and his focused campaign on reigning in municipal spending.
“Those kind of messages that he endlessly repeats seem to have an impact far beyond his character,” Gossage said. “People kind of like his character; people like brash, big-bear guys. He’s such a giant contrast from all the others, who are trying so desperately to remake the city with fanciful ideas that are not very credible.”
Gossage’s firm was involved with TTC Chair Adam Giambrone’s short-lived mayoral bid earlier in the year. In February, Kristen Lucas, a 20-year-old University of Toronto student, came forward alleging she had an affair with Giambrone. He denied it, but changed course and admitted to having multiple affairs with women other than his girlfriend, Sarah McQuarrie.
Gossage said he advised Giambrone to step down because the scandal was irreparable. “His deception was a real character flaw,” he said. “It was much more pronounced than Ford’s, and much more public. There was every reason to say it was over.” Gossage added that Giambrone’s volunteers were quitting in “droves,” while questioning his moral fabric.
Roman Gawur, one of Ford’s volunteers at his Etobicoke campaign office, said Ford’s 1999 impaired charge has nothing to do with his abilities to lead the city.
“I don’t really see it as an issue; it’s ancient history,” Gawur said. “We’re working for him because we believe he best represents the direction we’d like the city to go in. There hasn’t been a single legal issue that would lead anybody to believe that he hasn’t got the right character and the moral background to represent us.”