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Ignore or Engage? The Rob Ford Conundrum

Rob Ford has only been back at work for five days, and he's already polarized the city. Some people are angry enough to run up on him in public. Others are pretending he doesn't exist.
July 4, 2014, 3:05pm

Rob Ford hangin’ with some cool dudes on Canada Day. [via Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/TOMayorFord/photos/a.760170654034339.1073741859.142577519126992/760171027367635/?type=1&theater ]).
Toronto’s crack-smoking, racial-slur-spouting, allegedly rehabilitated mayor is back in action, and it seems as if there are two competing schools of thought on how to deal with it: ignore him completely, or confront him aggressively.

Rob’s only been back at work for five days, but there have already been two surprise opponents that jumped out of the woodwork to publicly confront Toronto’s highly flawed mayor. One is Joe Killoran, better known as the “shirtless jogger,” who ran up on Robbie during a Canada Day parade wherein the mayor was flanked on either side by his brother Doug, his spokesman Amin Massoudi, and a handful of other staffers. The Ford posse’s presence obviously set the shirtless jogger off, who unleashed a cathartic rant on behalf of many Torontonians who are tired of dealing with the Fords’ constant flow of bullshit:

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“What about my taxpayer dollars you give to your own business? I thought you were out for the taxpayer… yeah right! Answer one of the million questions people have for you!… People have a million questions about your lying, your corruption. You’re a corrupt, lying, racist homophobe!”

The jogger’s focus on Ford’s sketchy business dealings, that appear to bleed too often into the affairs of his duties as mayor, is especially needed, given the tired narrative of addiction-to-redemption that Robbie has been ramming down the throats of the media. While Rob’s admission that he’s tried every drug you could ever think of (in an interview with the CBC earlier this week) sparked unsurprising headlines across the country, and made people question what Rob Ford is like on mushrooms, the deeper issue of corruption and abuse of his position as Toronto’s supreme leader is a more relevant, and underreported angle.

Another sticking point that the jogger picked up on is Ford’s racism, which is a worrying issue, especially considering a quote the Toronto Star published in May, that was pulled from a clandestine recording of Robbie driving while hammered: “Nobody sticks up for people like I do, every fucking kike, nigger, fucking wop, dago, whatever the race. Nobody does. I’m the most racist guy around. I’m the mayor of Toronto.”

Hard to get more offensive than that!

Change is sweeter when it's shirtless. via Twitter.
The shirtless jogger’s outburst has made him somewhat of a cult hero in a very short time. As you can see from the Shirtless Jogger HOPE meme posted above, some people see a likeness between his energy and Obama’s first run to the Oval Office. Then, this morning, a “horde” of shirtless protesters (#ShirtlessHorde) took to demonstrating outside the CFRB 1010 studios where Robbie was live on air for an interview.

The #ShirtlessHorde. Expect them. via Twitter
But it's not just shirtlessness interrupting Rob Ford’s campaign! On the very same day that Team Ford was accosted by the jogger, Rob had to deal with another justified confrontation at Ribfest, of all places. At the now infamous BBQ’d meat festival, Andray Domise, a candidate for City Council in Ward 2 (a seat that’s currently held by Doug Ford, who may not run this year, so he can let his nephew Mike Ford run instead) approached the mayor and asked if he planned on apologizing “for referring to African Canadians as "niggers" and referring to youth programs as ‘Hug a thug.’"

Sadly, Rob Ford responded with a derisive non-answer, saying only: “It’s complicated.” Then he walked away—presumably to chow down on some dope ribs.

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In a written response to the confrontation on his blog, Andray Domise expands on the issue of Rob Ford’s racism:

“I wish I could have asked him why he takes no responsibility for the wreckage the investigation into his drug transactions has left behind in the Somali community. Why he hasn’t looked upon the faces of the men and women forced to the ground by police in the middle of the night, and offered an abject apology for helping to bring this down on their heads.”

These are the kinds of questions that are much more relevant than how many mollys Rob Ford has popped, but with insulting responses like “it’s complicated” being offered from an elected official to a completely relevant and necessary question, it’s no surprise that there’s a tangible movement to simply ignore the continuous tornado of manure that is Rob Ford.

That’s likely why Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star (who Rob Ford once accused of being a pedophile), suggested to the entire city hall press gallery that the media simply boycott Rob Ford’s return-from-rehab press conference where only a select group of journalists were permitted to attend—and those who made the cut weren’t able to ask any questions.

This VIP-nightclub approach to holding a press conference at City Hall understandably outraged the municipal reporters who had become accustomed to, you know, being able to ask questions of a democratically elected official in a public building. But Daniel’s attempt to boycott the presser received mixed responses in the papers.

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Royson James, while writing for the Star, wrote that journalists in Toronto are a “gutless lot” and should have taken a tougher stance against Robbie’s “bullying behaviour.” Whereas Chris Selley, in the National Post, referred to a hypothetical media boycott as an “empty gesture,” while noting that the media has been anything but kind to Rob Ford (and rightly so). In his piece, he asks: “What good would it do for readers, viewers and listeners—for media consumers, for voters” if reporters simply ignored Rob Ford?

The point is well taken. Rob Ford is still, somehow, the mayor of Canada’s largest city, and the readership of the big Canadian media outlets have an obvious interest in keeping up to date with his latest gaffes, fuck-ups, and catastrophes. And yet, there is a small movement called FIRM (Ford Idiocy Resistance Movement), coined by Andrew Mitrovica for iPolitics, which strives to ignore Rob Ford regardless.

FIRM’s 41-point manifesto has such directives as: “We will not give a damn about anything the Fords say or do—unless, of course, they’re in handcuffs being escorted into a police cruiser,” “We will not believe anyone in or outside the media who utters these silly words: ‘Rob looks like a changed man.’ or ‘Rob’s ready to go back to work,’” and “We will not use the term ‘Ford Nation’ ever again.”

While such a philosophy is certainly tempting—especially since the thought of how much nonsense Robbie can potentially spew between now and the October election is dizzying—Rob Ford has an uncanny ability to vacuum the media's attention into his bulbous orbit. The man has only been back at work for a few days, and he's already attracted the very public ire of an angry, shirtless man, who in turn became a national news story, which deflected the root of the shirtless man’s rant into a meme about shirtlessness itself.

Rob Ford is highly skilled at the martial art of being a media-manipulator savant. That’s a gift. And such a gift is hard to avoid noticing.

So if ignoring him isn't reasonable, then the hard questions should be asked continuously until the guy either resigns or gets voted out in October. Toronto deserves better than a racist crack-smoker who can’t be bothered to discuss his hateful rants, his association with criminals, his impact on Toronto’s Dixon neighbourhood, and so on.

But, if he does manage to win another election, then I’ll be voting for the Shirtless Jogger in 2018! Because Toronto’s had to deal with mayors who wear shirts for far too long.

@patrickmcguire