Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, would never be considered a staid politician. But his public confession of drug use was bizarre even by his own lofty standards.
In May, video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine was shown to certain journalists – then disappeared. Ford said it wasn’t him. With his repeated denials and the video missing, the story began to fade. Last week, however, Toronto police said the same video was recovered on a laptop seized in a drug raid.
In what will go down as one of the most jaw-dropping political moments ever, Ford this week stepped off a City Hall elevator into a scrum of reporters and, apparently off-the-cuff, admitted he did indeed smoke crack. “When?” the astounded press corps asks. “Probably in one of my drunken stupors… a year ago,” he responds. A few hours later, a flushed and gulping Ford held a formal press conference in which he repeated his admission, asked for forgiveness, said he won’t do it again and refused to resign.
Shocking, perhaps, but not surprising. Ford is a colorful character with a loyal following. Indeed, after the video resurfaced, his approval ratings actually climbed. But even relaxed Canadians have a breaking point. The specter of a crack-smoking clown as mayor may be a tolerance too high for most Torontonians.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Rob Ford. The flamboyant mayor may have finally cracked up.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: You can be your own worst enemy, and that’s why it pays to get outside advice. Ford no doubt breathed more than one sigh of relief after that pesky video disappeared. When it turned up again, he panicked and wound up blurting out his complicity in the worst possible way. But Ford was too close to the issue. Had he consulted with crisis management pros, they could have helped him orchestrate a more strategic and potentially career-saving way of confirming his participation. After all, as Washington DC Mayor Marion Barry proved, crack isn’t so whack that you can’t come back.
To see the video, click here.