Toronto Mayor’s Reality Show

 Toronto Mayors Reality Show

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Some Canadians were tweeting that last week’s Toronto city council hearings were the best reality show on television, but most aren’t laughing. Further revelations about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford‘s admitted purchase and use of illegal drugs are shocking, but not as much as his refusal to resign.

Time was any good PR advisor would have told the mayor to step down after just one of the many offenses he’s admitted to: being caught on videotape smocking crack cocaine. Being caught on videotape threatening to kill someone. His explanation for that: “I was extremely, extremely inebriated.” Telling a cadre of reporters that he had bought and used drugs. Admitting same during live televised hearings. Still, Ford clings to his mayoral seat, despite mobs of his constituents chanting “Resign!” outside his office.

With the help of PRs, politicians who have fallen from grace can construct careful comeback trails. And there is a precedent for Ford’s case. Marion Barry, the Mayor of Washington, DC, was videotaped smoking crack in 1990, served six months in prison, and was re-elected mayor in 1994. However, Ford is missing a key component of this example: in order to make a comeback, one must first go away.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Between a fall from grace and bouncing back, one must admit defeat. Though Marion Barry’s act of contrition – a prison sentence – was involuntary, he had it in hand to show he’d reformed. But no amount of PR can save Ford’s train wreck. He has taken the first step of saying he has some sort of rehab team on his case, but now would be the time to resign and take care of business in private. The last thing he or Toronto needs is for his recovery to become the next episode of this reality show.

Mayor Takes Sex Scandal from Bad to Worse

 Mayor Takes Sex Scandal from Bad to Worse

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.

Lately, barely a week goes by that a male politician isn’t apologizing for some sort of sexually naughty behavior. Last week that began with Anthony Weiner apologizing for new accusations of sending sexual texts to women, and it ended with San Diego Mayor Bob Filner facing charges of sexual misconduct.

Specifics quickly took the vagaries out of the charges, filed via a lawsuit. Women who worked with the 70-year-old mayor say he tried to forcibly kiss them, touched them, made unwanted sexual advances, and put his former communications director in a headlock. At a press conference this past Friday, Filner refused to comply with demands for his resignation. Instead, he apologized for his behavior toward women “over many years” and introduced his solution: two weeks of therapy.

Friday is typically a slow news day, a time when politicians make changes that will get lost in a pre-weekend shuffle. The two-week therapy cure ensured that Filner’s news remained a top story throughout the weekend. Demands for his resignation, even from fellow Democrats, only mounted. It’s unlikely that the twice-daily briefings Filner will receive while in intensive therapy will contain other developments.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Somehow, he managed to make a bad situation worse.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Take advice from the other side. On political drama The West Wing, the Democratic president hired a Republican advisor as a sounding board for partisanship. If the scriptwriters of an evening television program knew this, why couldn’t Filner’s PR team see a perfect storm gathering? Filner’s apology was flimsy, and he compounded the fracture with the admission that this has been going on “over many years.” And many years of sexual harassment is somehow to be cured in two weeks of therapy? That’s rather a lot to ask the public to swallow. While we can’t be sure, it seems unlikely that Filner’s PR team included a female perspective. There again, considering his admitted attitudes toward women, it’s doubtful he would have listened.


Client 9 Seeks 2nd Chance

 Client 9 Seeks 2nd Chance

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Eliot Spitzer.

In his heyday, former New York State Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer crusaded for strict regulations on Wall Street, incurring the wrath of the rich and powerful while fighting the good fight for the little guy. By night, he was known as Client 9 to the madam who supplied him with prostitutes. Not an isolated incident, nothing that could be put down to not knowing better. The word hubris replaced talk of a future in the White House.

Ah, but look at the shelf life of political shenanigans, and we may see why Spitzer is taking another shot in politics, announcing his run for Comptroller of New York. After all, Bill Clinton was reviled during the Monica Lewinsky episode, and now he’s an elder statesman that current president Barack Obama couldn’t wait to have in his corner. Another politician testing the waters for Spitz is Anthony Weiner, who waited not terribly long after his naughty-texting downfall to climb into the race for mayor of New York City. Was anyone terribly surprised that he quickly rose in the polls? Perhaps not.

The public has a short memory, or perhaps a shorter tolerance for politicians in general these days. Those whose transgressions err on the side of the personal, rather than keeping the little guy down and out, tend to be forgiven. The odds seem good that Joe Public will give Client 9 another shot.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Eliot Spitzer. Penance done, he stands a good chance of being re-elected.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: After you’ve done wrong, do the right things. Step 1: apologize. Step 2: gracefully resign from your post (hopefully with your still-supportive wife by your side). Step 3: Lay low for a while, giving other politicians a chance to grab the negative headlines. Step 4: begin reinvention and let the search engines associate you with something else apart from scandal. (In Spitzer’s case, this meant a a stint as a TV pundit.) Step 5: Let others go before you to test the waters. And finally, Step 6: return to the job you were good at, pledging to reward forgiveness. Voila! Happy days are here again.