TORONTO – Will Mayor Rob Ford be able to mount a comeback from the depths of a recurring drug scandal when he returns from rehab?
Short answer: it’s unclear -but unlikely.
But one thing is clear, this has never happened before.
“Every scandal is different, every campaign is different, every person is different, every finger print is different,” University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman said in a telephone interview.
“There could be parallels, but of course nothing like this.”
Ford took a private plane from Buttonville Airport to Chicago Thursday morning after he submitted his leave of absence to the city, allowing Norm Kelly to assume his responsibilities as mayor of Toronto.
The mayor announced his leave within hours of his drug scandal making news again as The Globe and Mail and Gawker published photos from an alleged video taken Saturday of the mayor smoking what might be crack cocaine. The Toronto Sun too published alleged audio of a racist, misogynist rambling said to be that of the mayor recorded Monday.
WARNING: Explicit language
Global News has been unable to verify the audio or the allegations made by the Globe.
Wiseman thinks the public may be able to relate to Ford because of his substance abuse, but thinks Toronto voters won’t vote for a liar.
“Everybody knows a drug addict, everybody knows people who’ve had alcoholic problems, everybody’s knows liars, but they can’t stand liars,” he said. “Here we’ve got a serial liar.”
Ford has a long history of controversy dating back to when he was a councillor. It grew more shocking after he became mayor when in May 2013 rumours surfaced the mayor had been caught on video smoking what might be crack cocaine.
How does Ford’s absence affect the race for mayor?
Each major candidate has wished Ford well in his attempt to recover from his substance abuse issue and all were clear they wanted the campaign to focus on issues.
Until now, the campaign has centred, in one way or another, on Ford.
“Are you for the mayor, are you against the mayor? Even in terms of the conduct of the challengers, a lot of the discussion or speculation has been on, are they being clear enough of their criticism and condemnation of the mayor,” saidRyerson professor Myer Siemiatycki.
But Ford’s departure has created a vacuum allowing for policy and substantive issues to fill the space, Siemiatycki said.
“As unexpected as this is, I think it could be a really defining moment as the public tries to get a handle on who are the alternatives, who are the challengers and what do they stand for,” he said.
There has been policy discussion so far in the campaign with all the major candidates, except Ford, releasing policy on everything from the land transfer tax, to Billy Bishop Airport, the relief line, the Scarborough subway and how they would go about funding public transit.
But the candidates have also been defined as how they compare to Ford, Siemiatycki said.
“The challenge for each of the main challengers now is to really clearly identify their sense of what the needs of the city are and to kind of in a more forthright way I think differentiate themselves from each other,” he said.
Can the mayor mount a comeback?
But jump ahead (at least) 30 days: can the mayor make a comeback? Maybe.
“We’ve certainly learned with mayor Ford that anything is possible, expect the unexpected,” Siemiatycki said. “The one thing I think we can bank on is, if he returns to the mayoralty race, he will claim that he is a new man, the demons are behind him and only the greatness remains.”
And times change, Wiseman said, suggesting “50 years ago, Rob Ford couldn’t even run for office.”
Wiseman noted that fact that Ford had been investigated for domestic abuse (the charges were later withdrawn) prior to running for mayor would have previously disqualified him from the stable of legitimate candidates.
“Nelson Rockefeller couldn’t run for president because he was married to a divorcee,” he said. “That’s not conceivable today. So you know, the culture changes.”
But will Ford win? No, Wiseman said, noting that he doesn’t even think Ford will be on the ballot in October.
“He knows he can’t win. Isn’t it obvious, has there been one poll in which he’s been in the lead since Olivia Chow has been in the lead?” Wiseman said. “Now John Tory is going to overtake him.”
He had an opportunity to go to rehab in November, Wiseman said, suggesting Ford could have gone to rehab then and made a reasonable attempt at a comeback.
“But he didn’t. He said ‘I’m declaring war,’” Wiseman said. “Now it’s already too late.”