Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An Open Letter to Rob Ford

Dear Rob Ford:
I feel for you, man. I really do. I mean, it's got to be tough going out there for you right now: you've basically lost control of your own mayoralty, reduced to radio-show bluster and toothless trade missions to American cities, roundly mocked for your recent court appearance during which you demonstrate the depth of your ignorance to a tantalized Twitter audience, and revealed, over a serious of missteps in both the media and city hall's chambers, to be not so good at the governance part of your government job.

It's important to remember that the first group to which you are beholden is your constituents. They are, ultimately, the reason Rob Ford is in office: they're the ones who cast the vote, who read the newspaper when you triumph and fall down, they're the ones to whom you have made promises. And Rob Ford, before he took office, had a reputation for excellent customer service.

(However! Let's get one thing straight, in this age of touting Romney's qualifications to run America based on his running of a billion-dollar asset, and in which election scrutineers in Ontario are trained to give good customer service: voting and governance is not a consumer transaction. Government and politicians have different goals than businesses and the people that run them. City Hall 101, yo.)

But it's true that not everyone in Toronto was on board with Ford before he took the officious title of "His Worship." Folks who lived downtown—and here, downtown is defined as "not the suburbs" in the same way that Manhattan is defined as "not Queens:" recognizing that both places have their own sense of urbanity, priorities, needs, and identities, while also acknowledging that those ideas don't always overlap—were wary of Ford and his bombastic promises to stop the gravy train. The gravy train, it turns out, is what keeps the city going, because it's actually more of a meat-and-potatoes train: social services and administration aren't a luxury. So even as there's a large number of voters in Toronto who were, and remain, firmly on Ford's side, there were also the people who weren't enthralled with his policy suggestions and his public persona.

Remember, Rob: you represent them too. So even though you might think you're only talking to your supporters, you're beholden to all us downtown lefty cyclist pinko Star-reading scumbags too.

It's true that the media has been watching all this play out with a devotion that would border on freaky if it wasn't their job. You've given them so, so much to comment on: missteps, mixed messages, leaderless moments in city hall, all topped off with the cherry of antagonism. Of course they don't like you. You're not very good at your job, and your job is to be the face and the leader of the city in which we all live. They're very good at their job, which is reporting on you.

But Rob, you know who trips you up the most? It's not Daniel Dale or the plastic bags. It's not Twitter or Clayton Ruby or Ed Keenan. It's your own damn self. You, Mayor Rob Ford.

You consistently fail to meet the minimum that is required of you, and you tout meaningless events as major victories (see: your football coaching, which should be a line in your bio, not your raison d'etre). You don't play nice with others: not other councillors, not large swathes of your constituents, not the media. You don't seem like you have an understanding of your role: for example, after gun violence erupted early in the summer, you reacted by promising to export anyone with a gun conviction out of the city. You changed the conversation from one of mourning and anger to, well, "WTF?" Your disastrous court appearance further exposed your deficiencies.

You consistently confuse and muddle the script, making it almost impossible to work with you. You alienate when you should reconcile. You disturb when you need to soothe. You leave when you need to lead.

Rob Ford, you have two years left in office. Two years, which you've pledged to spend campaigning for your next term in office. And thus, the cycle would continue. May I suggest a different course of action?

It's obviously silly to suggest you change your style. You are Toronto's shouty mayor, a role that might make some of us cringe but that some will point to will pride. You are red-faced, through and through.

But harnessing that style—making it work for you, and for the city—is possible. You can become a bulldog, barking over and over about how much you love this place. Not some of it, not just the parts who voted for you and whom you coach in football, but all of it. The queers, the disenfranchised black kids, the hippies, the policy wonks. Surround yourself with people who know things, and make use of their knowledge. Not yes-men: people who challenge you in a way you can listen to. I'm not asking you to become a queer disenfranchised black hippie; I'm asking you to start respecting those that are.

You strike me as a man most comfortable making it up as he goes along; learn how to learn. Running a city is different from running a business or a football team. Learn why. This is info you should have picked up much earlier in your term, but hey, better late than never.

I know that municipal politics can be cutthroat and that you like power, but you can no longer treat Torontonians like they're intruding on your needs when they demand that you fuck up less. Be proud of the place you're from and the office you were elected to; honour both by being the best mayor you can be.

I know you think you're already doing that. Rob. Dude. No. You need to start asking for help, asking questions and listening to the answers. You have to start trusting that people you think of as political foes aren't trying to mess with you. Leave that kind of belief at Don Bosco, because it's so high school. Be the bigger man. Take a meeting. Take notes.

Most of all, think critically about the vision of the future you're trying to create. What kind of Toronto do you want to govern? What kind of city do you want to leave behind?