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Is the tide turning against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford?

In the first seven months of his four-year term, everything went Rob Ford's way. His moves to trim minor expenses, cut an unpopular tax and expand the contracting-out of garbage pick-up sailed through with relative ease. Kept under tight control by his staff, he avoided the verbal bloopers and dubious behaviour that marked his 10-year run as a dissident city councillor.

In the past few weeks, though, things have been going sideways. The mayor's inexplicable decision to boycott all of Pride Week gave off a whiff of intolerance and alienated many voters. His ham-handed conduct of the budget review at city hall is making even fiscally conservative residents wonder about his leadership.

City councillors are hearing from voters who are alarmed over all the talk about cutting back on street cleaning, closing children's attractions such as Riverdale Farm or shuttering some libraries. Reacting to more than 300 messages against library closings, TTC chair Karen Stintz, a leading member of the mayor's administration, made a point of declaring publicly on Wednesday that she could not support shutting library branches.

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"A week ago somebody came up to me on Mt. Pleasant and said, 'What the heck is this guy doing?' " said North Toronto Councillor Josh Matlow. " 'I voted for lower taxes and no service cuts. That was what I was promised. Meanwhile, the mayor is suggesting more taxes and lower services.' "

If things were not bad enough for the mayor's camp, his brother, Councillor Doug "The Smart One" Ford, poured oil on the book pile by declaring he would close at least one Etobicoke library in a "heartbeat." Reminded that novelist Margaret Atwood had joined a save-the-libraries campaign, he declared that "she could walk by me, I wouldn't have a clue who she is." It did not help that he has the habit of dropping one of the R's when he says "libraries," pronouncing it "lie-berries."

The next day, he tried to explain himself to Global News. "What I was saying is, everyone knows who Margaret Atwood is. But if she were to come up to 98 per cent of the people, they wouldn't know who she was. But I think she's a great writer and I look forward to her input." Ms. Atwood must be grateful for the endorsement.

The very same day that Doug Ford was getting in hot water, his brother the mayor was caught up in the affair that Twitter is calling "fingergate." A local artist, Ottilie Mason, says she was driving on Dundas with her young daughter when she saw Mr. Ford talking on his cellphone in his van. When she made a thumbs-down gesture to indicate he should obey the law against phoning while driving, she says he gave her the finger.

The mayor's press secretary now admits that he was on the phone - "He is a very busy guy; the phone is ringing constantly" - but "he did not give anyone a rude gesture. That's where we believe the misunderstanding took place."

Of course, when Mr. Ford was caught shouting drunken insults at an out-of-town couple during a 2006 hockey game, he denied that too, only to admit it later and apologize. An extended middle finger is not easily misunderstood. Someone is not telling the truth here.

The mayor's handlers seem to realize that things are getting out of hand for their guy. As city hall prepared for a big meeting on budget cuts, they sent Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to the press gallery to try to explain the mayor's driving lapse and change the channel back to budget issues.

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Unlike many public officials, Mr. Mammoliti explained, the mayor drives himself around in his van and can't make calls while others chauffeur him. Mr. Ford, he offered, is a "different" kind of mayor.

He can say that again.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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