When Rob Ford lost a key transit vote this month, some of his opponents said it was the beginning of the end for the mayor of Canada's biggest city. Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, sees things differently.
"These guys, politically, they think they've got ya," he said of the mayor's triumphant opponents. But, after the council vote, "I was high-fiving Rob, even though he was down and out. I was saying, 'Rob, this is positive, this is a clear agenda, you've got it.'" The mayor's rivals "think they're going to slice and dice him," but defying him over transit was "the biggest political mistake they did."
Councillor Ford said that by overturning the transit plan this month in a council rebellion led by TTC chair Karen Stintz, the mayor's foes gave him a perfect springboard to re-election. Now he can argue that, by thwarting him, council denied suburban voters their right to have underground transit like downtowners do.
That message should fly in vote-rich suburbs, Councillor Ford said. "You can't win the city unless you win Scarborough and Etobicoke. The numbers don't add up." Now, he said, "Rob has locked Scarborough and locked Etobicoke," the Ford family's home turf. So even if downtown voters went against him en masse, he would still win in 2014. Or so goes the theory.
Councillor Ford laid it all out in an informal visit to the media gallery the other day. The gallery is near the rear exit of City Hall, and Mr. Ford sometimes stops by on his way to his vehicle, a black Lincoln Navigator that he parks out back because it's too big to go in the underground lot.
Clearly, he and his brother the mayor are not taking their recent defeats at city council lying down. Their new talk radio show, to start on Sunday, is part of a comeback strategy to make an end run around council and take their message straight to the people. In effect, the Fords are kicking off their re-election campaign now, more than 2½ years before the 2014 vote.
In fact, Councillor Ford said he might even run in the next provincial election, expected before the city vote in 2014, to push the Fords' message. "If I've got to take the lead and run provincially, I will," he said. "And we will rally this city just like we did during the [mayoral]election."
Here's the Fords' get-even plan: Disregard the council vote that threw out the all-underground transit scheme and returned to a mixed model of some underground and some on the surface. Start a Save our Subways movement to keep pushing their defeated version. Take to the airwaves on friendly radio and TV shows, not to mention their Newstalk 1010 program on Sunday afternoons.
An A-type personality who always brims with confidence, however misplaced, Councillor Ford insists the end run will work. To reach people and build momentum, "we're going to start pounding the e-mail and pounding the robocalls."
"There's no one in the country that can beat us in the ground game," he said, referring to grassroots retail politics. "They think they're smart," he said of the mayor's foes, "but they are dumb as a bag of hammers when it comes down to actual strategy."
Pure bombast? Perhaps. But people underestimated the Fords during the election campaign, when they came out of nowhere to win by hitting a simplistic message – stop the gravy train – over and over. They could do the same with the nonsensical Save our Subways, even if they have no plausible plan to pay for them.
Portraying opposition councillors as a squabbling cabal out of touch with the views of everyday people could have some traction too, especially if councillors overreach themselves and try to stymie the mayor by doing things like taking away his control of key council committees, as some have hinted they might. That would play right into his hands.
But there is at least one big problem with the Fords' comeback plan. The threat of revenge – we'll bury you in the next election – has dubious force with the vote so far away. And what do they do in the meantime? Presumably the mayor and his brother want to accomplish some things before the election. That means winning votes at council. They won't do it by beating their chests, waving a club and ranting on talk radio against anyone who gets in their way.