The Rob Ford Scandal Is Just Like 'The Wire'
Jun 5 2013
The allegation that a crew of drug dealers had a video of mayor Rob Ford smoking crack has resulted in a prolonged and sad controversy in Toronto. Our city’s once triumphant king—who we have heralded for his ability to charmingly pose for terrible photographs, or conquer his rivals after getting fired—has become a political pariah while keeping both ass cheeks firmly on the throne. After the firings and resignations of several disloyal staff members and some accusations from the Globe and Mail that his brother Dougie used to sell hash, his other brother Randy kidnapped a dude who owed him money, and his sister Kathy (who was shot in the face by her boyfriend) hung out with Nazis, the once sparkling face of the Ford dynasty is now looking pimply and scabbed up.
What with City Hall, the police, Toronto's drug dealers, and the media playing a major role in events, there's no real-life parallel to this evolving story—it's more like a work of fiction, specifically David Simon's much-lauded TV series The Wire, and even more specifically the really implausible plot points in season five. (You can imagine a writer pitching a hard-drug-abusing-mayor plot to Simon & Simon, and it's getting tossed out for being unrealistic.) But if Toronto's crackgate (or whatever we're calling it now) is The Wire, who are the analogues to the major players in the scandal? Here are the answers I came up with.
Mayor Ford/Avon Barksdale
Most of The Wire’s political narrative follows the city councilman Tommy Carcetti as he becomes mayor of Baltimore after defeating Clarence Royce and eventually becomes governor of Maryland. But neither of those fictional mayors were as sleazy or as scandalous as Rob Ford. Sure, Royce got caught mid-blowjob by a cop and Carcetti cheated on his supportive schoolteacher wife, but none of that is as bad as insulting immigrants and referring to a fellow politician as a “fag” on camera while smoking from a crack pipe in the company of drug dealers.
Robbie is a bit more like drug kingpin Avon Barksdale, whose constanst lawbreaking went unnoticed until McNulty started nosing around. Avon kept up a clean appearance and even when he was arrested by McNulty and co. he found a way to avoid doing hard time. Like Avon, Robbie is slippery and almost too slick to get caught—the mayor denied driving around with weed in his pocket in Miami until it was proved that he did it.
Also like Avon, when Robbie is invevitably replaced his name is still going to ring out. On The Wire, when Marlo Stanfield eventually took over as drug king of Baltimore, he was arguably more effective than Avon, but not nearly as charming. I expect to long for Robbie's cracked-out but entertaining regime when he's gone, just as I pined for Avon's "just a gangster, I suppose" charisma after he went to prison for good.
Doug Ford/Stringer Bell
What is a medium-level criminal mastermind without another medium-level criminal mastermind as his behind-the-scenes right-hand man? Doug Ford is absolutely the Stringer Bell to Robbie's Avon Barksdale. Stringer is Avon's left brain, the intellectual businessman to Avon's streetsmart hustler. Just like Robbie and his big bro Dougie. Doug Ford clearly is puling a lot of the strings in the Ford administration. And while Avon and Stringer Bell were childhood friends who were roughly the same age it was obvious that Stringer always had an older brother mentality when dealing with Avon, even if that all eventually fell to shit.
This might be tough to swallow, in part because Stringer is a much cooler guy than Dougie, but Doug Ford is actually way more effective than his Wire counterpart. Where Stringer Bell only dreamed of eliminating violence from the drug trade as a method of keeping the heat off of him, Doug actually achieved it in the mid-80s in Etobicoke (at least according to the Globe and Mail's sources)
The relationship between Robbie and Dougie proably won't end in death and prison like it did for the Wire kingpins, but who’s to say? Dougie may be a blood relative, but he also may have dealt drugs in the mean streets of Etobicoke. Who knows what kind of betrayal we could see go down in the next season—er, I mean in 2014—if the Fords face more pressure? Hopefully there’s no Toronto equivalent of Brother Mouzone lurking in the wings.
Mark Towhey/D’Angelo Barksdale
D’Angelo Barksdale and Mark Towhey truly could not be more alike. Neither Towhey nor Barksdale could stomach the wrath of their cruel overlords, and spoke their minds bluntly while resigning from their posts—they were consciences in places where conscience was a career-ender. In D’Angelo’s case, it was the murder of Wallace—a teenage drug dealer D’Angelo taught about crack and chess—via a Stringer Bell-ordered hit that convinced him to flip on his family.
As for Mark Towhey, it appears that Mark told Robbie to “get help” and also gave a “direct order” to his staffers to not accept any phone calls from the mayor when the crack scandal began, just before then got fired. Mark also called the Feds on team Ford after a phone call with Ford staffer David Price that led Towhey to believe ol’ Davey knew where the crack tape was. The difference is that, unlike the Barksdale family, the Ford administration isn't actually going to kill anyone. Well, probably not—there are homicide investigators snooping around City Hall, though the cops say no one should assume the police are worried that there might have been a City Hall-sponsored homicide.
The Press/The Press/The Cops
With all due respect to David Simon, the press storyline in the Ford saga is way, way more compelling than the newspaper storyline in The Wire's fifth season, which mostly dealt with the relatively cut-and-dried question of whether reporters should constantly lie in order to please their bosses and get awards. (No, they should not.) The crack story—broken practically simultaneously by Gawker and the Toronto Star—brings up more complex ethical queries. Was it OK for Gawker to very publicly try to raise $200,000 to buy the video, which almost everyone wanted to see, or was that a violation of a whole lot of unwritten rules? And what's going to happen now that the video is "gone"?
Interestingly enough, the Star’s editor-in-chief Michael Cooke appears to be confident that the video will surface publicly. Meanwhile, the paper has continued to break stories about staff resignations, and cover Rob Ford’s “business as usual" strategy for dealing with the scandal fallout. Then you have the folks at the Globe and Mail digging into Dougie's alleged past as a drug dealer in the 80s—if this really was The Wire, we'd be in an episode towards the end of the season, with all the pieces finally starting to snap together. And the people putting them together aren't cops, as on Simon's show, but reporters.
Journalists like Robyn Doolittle, John Cook, and Kevin Donovan are analogous to to Kima, Freeman, and McNulty—tireless, methodical, leaving no stone unturned in their relentless pursuit of wrongdoers. The Star is even investigating mid-level Ford staffers to paint the clearest possible picture of the Ford power circle.
Take David Price for example, a man who has the title of “director of logistics and operations” but has done little more in life than coach a few football teams, including one that young Robbie played on. Price is not only the guy who hinted to Towhey he knew where the video was, he has also literally run away from reporters asking for interviews, and allegedly slung hash with Doug Ford.
Bodie and Crew/The Anonymous Drug Dealers
The details surrounding the drug dealers who started all of this are sketchy. We know that Anthony Smith, a 22-year-old who was shot and killed in front of a Toronto nightclub may have been involved with the men who made the video, though sources from his community deny that his death had anything to do with the video. What's certain is that Robbie, dressed in his finest sweatsuit, was photographed with Anthony in a picture that shows Anthony flipping off the camera while holding onto a bottle.
Given that Rob is the Avon Barksdale figure in this story, it's not surprising that he has also received protection and respect from certain drug dealers who supposedly “support the mayor and are angry at the video’s sellers,” possibly because he buys so much crack from them and they don’t want to lose an awesome customer, I don't know for sure. These supportive drug dealer bros even wanted to get a local man named “Slurpy,” who apparently is a Rob Ford lookalike, to stage a fake crack video they could leak to hopefully discredit the real one’s credibility. Unfortunately they never went through with that plan, but guys, call me if you need a producer.
Anyway, the behaviors we're reading about in this story reminds me of Bodie, a longtime street-level dealer who, for better for worse, operated within the confines of the drug game’s hierarchy until his surprisingly tragic and moving death. We’re seeing something like that here within a community that is clearly protecting the video from being released. Perhaps it is the negative attention resulting from the Star's focus on the dealers' supposed Somali background that's keeping the video hidden. I’m sure the community would like this story to die so they stop getting such a bad rep by association. But maybe Robbie has exerted some power, through money or other means, to ensure that the video of him hoovering crack smoke stays buried. That's what Avon would do, and if the reports are true and Rob does know where the video was or is being kept, I’m sure he did everything in its power to keep it way down in the hole.
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patrickmcguire
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