There’s only one American politician who has been seen in public with Rob Ford, the Toronto mayor who was allegedly seen smoking crack on a video recorded by Somali drug dealers. That politician, of course, is our own mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Last September, Ford visited Chicago to renew the Sister Cities agreement between the two Great Lakes metropolises.
The two held a private half-hour meeting, during which they discussed garbage pickup. Ford privatized Toronto’s garbage collection, to prevent another haulers’ strike like the one that allowed trash to pile up for 39 days in 2009. Emanuel has also talking about privatizing trash pick-up, saying “managed competition” will save the city money. He has already hired private haulers for curbside recycling.
At the time, Ward Room suggested Emanuel and Ford might be “political soul mates” because of their mutual antagonism toward public employee unions.
Ward Room was the only print outlet to report on Ford’s visit, which did not result in a single line of copy in either the Sun-Times or the Tribune. (We knew he was a character when we heard he’d been removed from the Air Canada Centre for drunkenly insulting fellow Maple Leaf fans.) It’s safe to say that he’d get a lot more attention if he came to Chicago now that he’s been outed as an alleged crackhead. Gawker, which broke the story, is running a “Crackstarter” crowdfunding campaign to raise $200,000 to buy the video from the drug dealers, and Ford’s antics have been written up by The Atlantic Cities and Vanity Fair.
When Ford visited Chicago, he identified the lakefront as our city’s biggest edge over Toronto in the race to global city status.
“People know Chicago more than Toronto…because they have iconic things like this,” he said at Millennium Park.
But maybe Ford should have been looking at the man standing next to him. Urbanist Richard Florida, an American who teaches at the University of Toronto, wrote in the Globe and Mail that one of the main obstacles standing between Toronto and world-class status is a world-class mayor -- like Rahm Emanuel. (Florida also wrote that Ford is "the worst mayor in the modern history of cities" -- fighting words in Chicago, which likes to claim Al Capone stooge William Hale Thompson as worst of the worst.)
It is time to convene a blue-ribbon commission on Toronto’s future. Everything must be on the table – the powers of the city, its mayor, the Council; the kinds of revenue-raising authority it needs to fund transit, infrastructure and more; the way to craft a governance system that is up to the challenges of the twenty-first century.
The pace at which something like this happens will tell us whether Toronto has the will to solve its crisis and become the global city that it once seemed destined to be – and whether its future mayors will look less like Rob Ford and more like New York’s Mike Bloomberg, Chicago’s Rahm Emmanuel [sic], London’s Boris Johnson, and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi.
It’s better to have a mayor who just gets high on money and power.