Toronto Mayor Rob Ford clearly enjoyed his little toot down to Austin last week. Leading a mission to learn how Toronto can follow its example and use live music to boost economic growth, he seemed genuinely interested in what he heard and honestly grateful for the big Texas welcome he got.
"It was amazing what we saw today," he said after his meetings. Asked if he would call the trip a success, he said "Oh, huge – huge."
His brother Doug told the Fords' Newstalk1010 radio show on Sunday that the trip was a golden opportunity, "like God dropping this right in our lap." He said they had "a great, great time promoting the city" and he praised the mayor for "showing his leadership and embracing this" – even if, as he acknowledged, the trail was blazed by city councillors Josh Colle and Gary Crawford.
The trip took the mayor briefly away from the trouble swirling around him back home after the arrest of his friend Alessandro Lisi on drug charges. In Austin, he got a chance to do what he does best: boosting the city.
He bragged about Toronto's successes and his own, telling a group at Austin city hall about Toronto's falling unemployment rate and claiming credit for it. Expect him to tell voters in the coming election year about how he went all the way to Texas to create jobs in Toronto.
He avoided any major bloopers. His only slip was messing up the name of his counterpart, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. He called him Mayor "Leffington" in a speech a city hall.
The mayor spent some time with wife, Renata, and two children, who stayed with him at the Austin Hilton, the kids trailing him through the hotel lobby as he went off to work in his dark suit.
He indulged his passion for football by watching a high-school game in Austin and, according to his brother, heading to Dallas to take in a big-league Cowboys game. "I love football, I love music," he said after the high-school game, clearly in his element.
But this week is bound to bring him sharply back to earth. He is certain to face more questions about his dubious taste in friends – questions he was able to deflect or ignore in Austin when they were posed by the small group of Toronto reporters who followed him. Police are conducting a high-level investigation into the affair, even using a small plane to track the players in this murky business. New developments seem inevitable.
Then there is the tangled issue of transit. City council is to discuss the proposed Scarborough subway at a session this week. The provincial and federal governments both now favour building a subway instead of a light-rail line, though they differ on the route it should follow. City council has voted for a subway, too, but now it must struggle with how to pay for it.
City officials estimate the city's contribution would be more than $900-million. Raising that would require the city to borrow money and hike property taxes to cover it. Mr. Ford, that famous advocate of the taxpayer, says the biggest increase he can live with is a quarter of one per cent a year over four years. City staff say it would take much more.
If Mr. Ford's past performance is any indication, he will try to pose as both a champion of low taxes and of subways – a glaring contradiction that has tripped him up in the past. City councillors are preparing to give him a good grilling if he tries to straddle these two horses again. He may wish he were back in Texas.