October 2, 2013 4:19 pm

Rob Ford’s popularity unlikely to be affected by arrest of his friend, experts say

TORONTO – Will Mayor Rob Ford’s rising popularity be tested with the recent arrest of his friend and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi? At least one expert thinks Ford may be just fine.

Nelson Wiseman, a Professor of political science at the University of Toronto said the arrest will affect the mayor simply because of his relationship with the accused, but it’s unlikely to trouble Ford’s most stringent supporters.

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“But does it blow on him politically? I’m not sure, there’s a part of the population that doesn’t care,” Wiseman said in an interview Wednesday. “They don’t care. They think he’s doing a fine job and they like him.”

Ford friend and occasional driver, Lisi, was arrested outside of an Etobicoke dry cleaning business Tuesday night. A search warrant was later executed on Lisi’s Etobicoke home.

The mayor said Wednesday he was “surprised” and “shocked” by the arrest, suggesting he’d never witnessed his friend using drugs or alcohol.

“He’s a friend, he’s a good guy and I don’t throw my friends under the bus. Like I said He’s straight and narrow, never once seen the guy drink never seen him do drugs,” he said at a media availability in Etobicoke. “I’m surprised. I’m actually shocked.”

Ford’s approval rating has been on the rise as of late; a recent poll by Forum Research found the mayor’s approval rating sitting at 49 per cent, with the biggest gains coming in Scarborough where a recent push for a subway has garnered the mayor some fans.

Lorne Bozinoff, President of Forum Research characterized Ford’s rising popularity as a “comeback.”

But Tuesday’s arrest threatens to reignite a debate about an alleged video, originally reported on by the American website Gawker and The Toronto Star in May that allegedly shows someone matching the mayor’s appearance smoking what could be crack cocaine.

The mayor has denied the allegations, calling them “ridiculous” and claiming he neither uses crack cocaine nor is addicted to crack cocaine.

Global News has not seen the video and cannot verify the allegations.

The Star reported that Lisi was among the Ford associates looking for the alleged video.

And as the debate about the alleged video reappears, Peter Graefe, a professor in the social sciences department at McMaster University, said Ford’s opponents have been given another opportunity to criticize the mayor; something, he says, they have yet to do effectively.

“I think he’s been relatively able to escape so far and the opposition is just happy to gloat,” Graefe said. “So I think Rob Ford has been able to escape this, but the fact it keeps coming back continues to open these doors for more effective interventions by his opponents. To date, they haven’t really seized on it that well.”

But continued criticism might play into the mayor’s political strategy, Graefe suggested.

Despite the mayor being born into a wealthy, well-connected family, Graefe said, he has managed to paint himself as an outsider and can use the criticism as a rallying point for supporters.

“So part of this criticism of what he’s done actually plays to his strengths, because he can say ‘it’s the same chattering elites trying to prevent your man from making changes at city hall,’” he said.

And Ford fired back at his purported opponents in the media on Wednesday after a group of reporters waited outside of the mayor’s home waiting for a comment on the arrest of Lisi.

“You know what bothers me is you guys coming to my house, my front door. That’s pretty bad at least we could set up something but don’t come to my front door again,” Ford said to a group of reporters. “That’s pretty low if you ask me. That’s very low.”

- With files from Mike Drolet

© Shaw Media, 2013