'I love Rob so much,' Ford's brother says as city mourns councillor's death
Rob Ford, the long-time Toronto politician who became known for his personal troubles as much as his penny-pinching ways on city council, has died at the age of 46.
Ford passed away Tuesday, following a battle with a rare and aggressive form of soft tissue cancer known as pleomorphic liposarcoma.
His nephew, Michael Ford, confirmed the news on Twitter.
"Uncle Rob, you have fought the good fight long enough and now can rest in peace. Love you and will forever miss you," he said.
Ford's brother Doug released a statement to CP24 hours later, saying his heart had been "ripped out."
"My heart is ripped out. I loved Rob so much. I took care of him and protected him from the day he was born. I miss him so much. He was my best friend," he said.
Speaking with CP24 Tuesday night, Ford's nephew Michael Ford said that it had been a "very difficult day."
"He's a hard man to live up to, because he was always everywhere, always there helping his constituents," he said.
A Toronto District School Board trustee, Michael Ford said he made the decision to attend a board meeting Tuesday night as a tribute to his uncle.
"He believed in hard work and serving his community, and I thought (coming to the meeting) was the best way to remember him."
A larger-than-life personality who once famously called himself “300 pounds of fun,” Ford was first elected as city councillor for Ward 2 in 2000. As a rookie politician, Ford built a name for himself by railing against councillor office budgets, using his own money to pay for his expenses and giving his cellphone number out to any constituent that needed his help.
Controversy, however, was never far behind.
He was often accused of making offensive speeches on the floor of council, on one occasion calling Italian-Canadian councillor Giorgio Mammoliti a “Gino boy” and on another speaking out against donating money to AIDS research because “If you are not doing needles and you are not gay” you won’t get the disease.
Ford was also forced to deliver more than his share of apologies
In 2006, he apologized for drunkenly accosting two fans at a Maple Leafs game after initially denying that he was even at the arena. Later as a mayoral candidate he came clean about a 1999 impaired driving arrest. Through it all, his popularity only seemed to rise.
"He evokes a sympathy that is unique," former councillor Karen Stintz once told The Canadian Press. "People continue to forgive his indiscretions because they identify with him or feel sympathy with him."
A people’s politician
Ford was not the most eloquent politician but what he lacked in polish he made up for with a unique ability to connect with people. From regular visits to crumbling Toronto Community Housing buildings to personally reaching out to residents and hearing their concerns to personally returning every phone call from constituents seeking his help in getting a pothole fixed, Ford was someone who always seemed to have time for Torontonians.
By the time he was elected mayor by a landslide in 2010, Ford had in fact become a working class hero of sorts, telling an estimated 5,000 people at his victory celebration that they had together built a coalition of voters to “put an end to wasteful spending” and “respect the taxpayers' money."
As the city’s chief magistrate, Ford then helped wipe out a controversial vehicle registration tax, got the TTC designated an essential service, privatized garbage collection west of Yonge Street and obtained major concessions in labour negotiations with two unions representing municipal workers. He also successfully convinced council to abandon a light-rail transit plan in favour of an underground subway for Scarborough, famously proclaiming that the people wanted “subways, subways, subways” during one impassioned speech.
What set Ford apart from other politicians wasn’t his policies, though. It was the brand he tirelessly cultivated.
Despite his upbringing as the son of a wealthy businessman and Progressive Conservative party backbencher, Ford successfully portayed himself as a regular guy and spoke out against the “downtown elites” that he claimed had an outsized role in Toronto politics. Each summer, he’d throw a barbecue at his mother’s house dubbed Ford Fest and invite Torontonians far and wide. Out in public, he’d never refuse a request for a photo, sometimes creating a minor disturbance as dozens of people at whatever event he was attending lined up to meet him.
“I am not an international celebrity,” Ford once told viewers of his short-lived YouTube program. “I’m an average hard-working guy that goes to work every day, comes home to their family, takes my kids out, and supports my wife and family.”
If his term had ended after two years Ford’s time in office may have been remembered for his unique brand of retail politics and the increased focus on cost-cutting that he brought to city hall.
Instead, Ford is more likely to be remembered for the scandal that erupted in 2013 when the Toronto Star and Gawker printed a story detailing a video in which Ford was seen smoking crack cocaine with alleged members of the Dixon City Bloods.
The story and the circus that ensued soon became international news.
There was a seemingly endless supply of video footage showing Ford in various states of inebriation, stories of him drinking in his office and being drunk in public, allegations of him cavorting with gang members and a police investigation that ultimately culminated in charges against Ford’s friend and occasional driver for his alleged attempts to recover the video using extortion.
As the story grew, Ford continuously denied having any sort of substance abuse problem and waged war of words against the Toronto Star for printing the stories.
That all changed in November, 2013 when Ford walked out of an elevator, greeted the throng of reporters that had become accustomed to parking outside his office and said the words that many Torontonians were waiting months to hear – “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine”
What followed was one of the weirdest periods in Toronto political history.
Ford refused to seek professional help and his already erratic behavior grew even stranger, eventually prompting council to take the unprecedented step of transferring most of his powers and office budget to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.
Marginalized at council, Ford only became a bigger celebrity on late night television, where his antics were often used as punchlines by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Then on April 30, 2014, nearly a year after the Star and Gawker’s initial stories, it all came to a head when a pair of embarrassing stories, one detailing another alleged video showing Ford smoking crack cocaine, were published.
Ford took a leave of absence, announced that he would enter rehab and wasn’t seen again for months.
A changed man
Ford emerged from rehab a seemingly different man, admitting for the first time that he suffered from alcoholism and vowing to stay clean for the good of both his family and those he represented at city hall.
In no time, he had thrown himself into the rigors of a mayoral campaign and though at first he trailed Olivia Chow and John Tory in the polls his numbers soon began to rise, making one of the most unlikely political comebacks imaginable suddenly seem possible.
There would be no storybook ending.
Two months before election day, Ford was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to withdraw from the mayoral race and run instead for his former seat on council instead so he could focus on a battle that would consume the final year of his life.
“With the love and support of my family, my friends and the people of Toronto — I know I will beat this terrible disease,” Ford said at the time, in a statement he wrote from his hospital bed. “I am determined to face this head on and return strong for my family and for my city.
It’s impossible to forecast how Ford will ultimately be remembered other than to say that he undoubtedly will be.
He was a flawed man, something he never denied and sometimes embraced, but he was also someone that unquestionably loved being in politics and appeared to truly care about those he represented, whether they were likely to vote for him or not.
He was also a fighter, who put his head down and took on political foes, addiction and a deadly disease as if they were opponents on a football field, never admitting defeat.
“Live every day to the fullest,” Ford told reporters in October after announcing that his cancer had returned. “If you get something done, do it. I sleep eight hours a day, the rest of the time I return phone calls, I help people out and I do whatever my kids want to do and whatever my wife wants to do.”
Ford is survived by his wife Renata and his young children Doug Jr. and Stephanie.