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Here’s Why the Rob Ford Scandal Is Just Like The Wire

What with City Hall, the police, Toronto's drug dealers, and every worthwhile newspaper playing a major role in the unraveling of this story, at this point, there is really only one cultural phenomenon that this real life clusterfuck can be compared to...

by Patrick McGuire
Jun 5 2013, 11:39am

The allegation that a crew of drug dealers is holding on to a video of Rob Ford smoking crack has resulted in a prolonged and sad controversy in the Kingdom of Toronto. Our city’s once triumphant King—who we heralded for his ability to charmingly pose for a terrible photograph, or conquer his rivals after getting fired—has become a political outcast while still keeping both ass cheeks firmly on the throne. After the firings and resignations of several disloyal staff members and some strong accusations from the Globe and Mail that his brother Dougie used to love selling hash, his other brother Randy used to love kidnapping people, and his sister Kathy (who has been shot in the face) used to love hanging out with Nazis, the once sparkling face of the Ford dynasty is now looking pimply and scabbed up from crack use.

What with City Hall, the police, Toronto's drug dealers, and every worthwhile newspaper playing a major role in the unraveling of this story, at this point, there is really only one cultural phenomenon that this real life clusterfuck can be compared to: The Wire.  So here’s what Toronto’s embarrassingly insane political controversy has in common with the semi-fictional universe of David Simon’s Baltimore.

Mayor Ford/Avon Barksdale

Politically, most of The Wire’s narrative follows the rise of City Council star Tommy Carcetti towards the mayoral throne of Baltimore, as he defeats the crooked Mayor Clarence Royce. Even with that political drama keeping the The Wire’s viewers interested in the municipality of Baltimore, neither of those mayors can hold a candle to the controversies of Rob Ford. Sure, between the two of them, they handled the problem of witness murders, dealt with an outdoor drug market that was sneakily made legal by the cops called “Hamsterdam”, combatted a rise in murders where bodies were left in abandoned houses, and in the case of Clarence Royce got caught mid-blowjob by a former cop, neither of them insulted immigrants and referred to a fellow politician as a “fag” on camera while smoking from a crack pipe in the company of drug dealers.

That’s why Robbie is a bit more like Avon. Avon Barksdale started off as the king of his little world. While nosey ass McNulty certainly knew the strip club Avon owned was full of dirty money, and that Avon was running crack (WMDs!) through the project towers of Baltimore, Avon kept up a clean appearance and almost went for a whole entire season without getting arrested. You would never find a video of Avon Barksdale smoking crack and calling Mayor Carcetti a fag, either. And yet, Robbie and Avon share the same mantra of: deny, deny, deny…  We know that’s what Robbie is all about, since he denied driving around with weed in his pocket in Miami until it was proved that he did it.

Ultimately though, when Robbie is replaced with a new mayor, the infamy of his name is going to ring out on the streets of Toronto for generations. Even when Marlo eventually took over the projects of Baltimore from Avon, with an unbelievable mean streak in the wake of Avon’s collapsed empire, there was always a small part of me that missed the familiar cruelty of Avon Barksdale. I expect to feel this type of longing again whenever King Crackpipe is ousted from office.

Doug Ford/Stringer Bell

What is a medium-level criminal mastermind without another medium-level criminal mastermind to be their right hand man who works behind the scenes? Doug Ford is absolutely the Stringer Bell to Rob Ford’s Avon Barksdale. Without Stringer, Avon wouldn’t have much strategy or direction in his life. 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 Bell is a much cooler guy than Dougie, but Doug Ford is a far superior drug dealer and political operator to his fictional Wire counterpart. Where Stringer Bell only dreamed to eliminating violence from the drug trade as a method of keeping the heat off, Doug Ford actually achieved it in the mid-80s in Etobicoke (so says the Globe and Mail's sources)

Hopefully the relationship between Robbie and Dougie doesn’t end in death and prison time like it did for the wacky, allegedly drug-lovin’ Ford brothers, but who’s to say? Dougie may be a blood relative, but he is also a guy who may have ran drugs through 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 can last that long. Even though Doug is the Ego to King Crackpipe’s Id, Rob should be able to keep his own shit together enough to keep his rock smoking habits away from the public eye. If things get any further out of control, it might be hard for Doug to hold on. 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. Both men essentially served as the canaries in the coalmine, who signaled the death of their respective institutions. Neither Towhey nor Barksdale could stomach the wrath of their cruel overlords, and spoke their mind bluntly while resigning from their posts. In D’Angelo’s case, it was the murder of Wallace—a teenage drug dealer who D’Angelo taught about crack and chess—via a Stringer Bell ordered hit, that really made him flip on the Barksdale power circle.

As far as Mark Towhey goes, 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 getting fired.  While no one can say for sure what the mayor’s exact verbal reaction to Towhey’s pro-rehab message was, I can imagine it was something close to Stringer Bell’s response to D’Angelo when he walked away from him and left him in prison, while D’Angelo yelled “Where’s Wallace, String?!” Perhaps Towhey yelled “Where’s the Crack Tape, Rob?!” while Rob called him a fag and told him to leave.

Mark Towhey 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, and made it seem like he was gonna track it down by any means necessary. And yet, even though there are homicide investigators snooping around City Hall, the cops say no one should assume the police are worried that there might have been a City Hall sponsored homicide. K, noted.

The Press/The Press/The Cops

With all due respect to David Simon, the reality of the press involvement in King Crackpipe’s possible downfall is far more interesting than any of the newspaper narratives seen in The Wire’s fifth season. While the fifth season of The Wire dealt heavily with the slow destruction of print media and the daily newspaper in general—the crackgate scandal pits that medium head to head with the exciting world of internet bloggery.

Just for Robbie’s crack tape, the folks over at Gawker visited a foreign Canadian city, hung out with drug dealers, tried to give said dealers $200,000 in an extremely public manner, lost contact with the criminals/video-owners entirely, have admitted the video may be gone, but will at least end up giving 200k to a Canadian charity instead. It has truly been a thrilling roller coaster ride, on which The Toronto Star is also sitting with its hands in the air, screaming like a crazy person to ensure they take a good ride photo.

Interestingly enough, The Toronto Star’s editor-in-chief Michael Cooke appears to be confident that the video will surface publicly. Along with that optimism, the stories they have broken about staff resignations, and their day-to-day coverage of Rob Ford’s “business as usual strategy,” has only increased the heat on King Robbie’s throne, far beyond the point of an acceptable temperature to freebase from. Then when you consider the folks at the Globe and Mail who figured out Dougie was a drug dealer in the 80s, it’s quite clear that there’s an all out media war against the Fords. So really, the newspapers in crackworld are more like the cops in The Wire.

Robyn Doolittle, John Cook, and Kevin Donovan are closer to Kima, Herc, and Jimmy McNulty. The cops in The Wire tirelessly tailed, targeted, and investigated the dealers in the terraces, just like these reporters have investigated The Fords. The Toronto 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. That’s how they met. 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 dealing connection to Robbie's crackworld are sketchy. We know that Anthony Smith, a 22 year old man 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. 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 of something. While it is unclear if his death is connected to the crack video, CBC News is now reporting that the video itself may have been seized by police during a murder investigation. That is pretty fucking crazy.

Given that Rob is a bit of an Avon Barksdale figure in this story, it is of no surprise 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 out 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 behaviours we're reading about in this story reminds me of Bodie, a longtime soldier who, for better for worse, operated within the confines of the drug game’s hierarchy until his bitter 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 media's constant mentions of the dealers' alleged Somali background that is 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 iPhone video of him hoovering crack smoke stays buried. That's what Avon would do!

I'll wager that it’s a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B. While the community certainly has a lot to lose, the story of Rob Ford’s crack tape is such an entangled mess of politics, crime, and media frenzy, that 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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