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Views on a 'self-immolating mayor'

IMAGINE for a moment that a leading politician in one of our big cities had admitted smoking crack cocaine, "probably in one of my drunken stupors".

Imagine further that he had confessed to buying illegal drugs since taking office, and that allegations (which he denies) have arisen in police documents to the effect that he used racially abusive language and sexually propositioned a female colleague.

Imagine (bear with me here) that the city council stripped him of many of his powers and slashed his office budget by 60%, and that one of the city's main newspapers says he has lowered his ethical bar to such depths "that any further attempts by him to pass under it will require tunnelling equipment".

To make matters worse, imagine that, despite it all, he is determined to seek re-election.

The question: if it took just 17,238 supporters on change.org to make it clear that the screening of the demolition of the Red Road flats was rather unpopular, how many signatures would there conceivably have been on a petition to get rid of someone like Rob Ford?

How many newspaper investigations, Facebook campaigns, and angry protests outside the city chambers?

In the unlikely event that you haven't heard of Ford, he is, to borrow an expression coined by the city's Globe and Mail, "Toronto's self-immolating mayor".

His chutzpah is second to none. Last week, launching his re-election campaign, he entered, to the skirl of bagpipes, a hall filled with 3000 of his supporters, and spoke of "humility" and the "spirit of second chances".

Ford has lots of populist political skills - he likes to stand up for "the little guy" - and his supporters are happy to overlook his faults, and the scandals which, barnacle-like, have attached themselves to his name.

At the very least, he has probably enlivened both Toronto politics and October's election campaign; but it's interesting to speculate as to how long he would have lasted over here before change.org's server melted down.

"Rob is real, he's honest with the taxpayers' money," says his brother and campaign manager, Doug, "and people know, when they call Rob Ford, they're going to get a phone call back." Given Rob's sometimes erratic public behaviour though, you have to wonder whether having him on the other end of the phone was necessarily a good thing.

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