For the past two months, Louise Boehler has walked into the small "Rob Ford for Mayor" campaign office in a Scarborough strip mall every morning at about 10 a.m., and performed the same routine.
"I turn the lights on, get the coffee ready," the 58-year-old mother of two said. She checks the voice messages next – some days, there are as many as 60 messages for Mayor Ford waiting. And by the time she's done, the volunteers have begun arriving. The rest of her morning flies by co-ordinating them – setting them up with flyers and bumper stickers, then sending them out to canvass the city streets.
Ever since Rob Ford launched his re-election campaign in April, he and brother and campaign manager, Doug Ford, have been tight-lipped about who is on the campaign. While the mayor's rivals announced teams stacked with well-known political veterans, Doug would only say his is a team of "seasoned veterans."
The Globe and Mail was recently given a glimpse inside the Scarborough campaign, where it found a team of volunteers who have continued working quietly since the mayor left at the end of April for a rehab facility in Muskoka. All the high-level decisions at the campaign, including policy, are "on hold," Doug Ford told The Globe. So for the time being, the campaign depends on the volunteers – like those in Scarborough – to keep momentum going.
"We have the best ground game in the country," Councillor Ford said of the grassroots campaign. "Bar none."
At the centre of the Scarborough office is Ms. Boehler, who has a shock of blond curls and a "Hunks and Hounds" calendar pinned to her desk. She is the only paid, full-time employee at the office, and under Councillor Ford's direction, is responsible for ground operations for the city east of University Avenue.
Ms. Boehler said she has worked on "many, many, many" political campaigns over the years. About two dozen supporters were at the office when The Globe visited on Mayor Ford's birthday, and Ms. Boehler spoke with The Globe between her hosting duties – giving tours and ensuring passersby filled out voter information cards.
The Fords approached her while she was working on Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland's campaign, she said. One senior Freeland campaign organizer said he believed Ms. Boehler had helped with signs on the campaign, though he and other organizers said she did not play a significant role.
Ms. Boehler remains loyal to the Fords because her own brother struggled with substance abuse years ago, she said. "So I do fully understand what he's been through, what he has to go through, and what has to come of it." She calls Mayor Ford "a fighter, and he has a strong will in him."
She said the only change the campaign made due to Mr. Ford's absence was to add "foot soldiers." Mayor Ford is a "heavy canvasser," so they've had to increase volunteers on the ground (she said from about 75 canvassers a day to 100) to make up for his absence.
One such volunteer is Jun Hwang, who described the mayor's absence as "a bit of a curveball," but said he's glad the mayor is getting help.
"We understand the mayor is in a facility, working away, but the grassroot movement hasn't stopped," he said.
Another dedicated volunteers is Stefan Ristic, a 26-year-old political science graduate, who works nights as a security guard but still spends most days at the campaign office. He'd like to work in public service – ideally in the mayor's office – describing Mr. Ford as "a man of the people, a man who truly fights for the city."
While canvassing, Mr. Ristic said he's fended off questions about the mayor's troubles. On top of admitting to "problems with alcohol," Mayor Ford has also appeared on two separate videotapes smoking what appears to be crack cocaine. And a Toronto Police investigation into the mayor remains ongoing.
"Yeah, people have brought it up," Mr. Ristic said. "But I've noticed people don't have anything against his political platform. If people don't want to vote for him, it's because of the allegations in the news."
Mr. Ristic said the mayor has been missed, but in the meantime the team is getting things ready for his return. And when he does, Mr. Ristic said, "We're just going to shoot it out the door. We're going for the win."