“He spoke Jamaican really well (and used) Jamaican colloquialisms that you have to be around Jamaicans to understand,” Bryan said of the mayor’s appearance in the infamous cellphone video recorded at an all-night Rexdale diner.
“If anything, that increases his appeal; that increased it to me, but then I’m, ‘What am I doing — it’s Rob Ford.’”
Bryan does not belong to Ford Nation. But Ford’s continuing cachet with some black Torontonians — who see him as a sort of “Robin Hood of the ’hood” — is a phenomenon Bryan has thought a lot about and explored in his blog.
“Rob Ford appeals to disenfranchised people, and you don’t get any more disenfranchised than black Canadians,” said Bryan.
Councillor Doug Ford (see Doug Ford’s policard), the mayor’s brother and closest adviser, has this to say about Rob and his relationship with the black community: “No one in this city supports the black community more than Rob Ford. No one. Bottom line. Zing. Done. OK? No one.”
Curiously, Doug Ford made the comment after an April city council vote on finding a street to dedicate to late South African president Nelson Mandela. The mayor voted against the motion and then was allowed to change his vote.
City council candidate Andray Domise finds it deeply troubling that some would “latch” on to a man who has used the N-word and votes against community grants for what Ford calls “hug-a-thug” programs. Domise is running in Ward 2 (Etobicoke North), the seat currently held by Doug Ford. (Doug isn’t running for council this fall, but Domise will face competition from the mayor’s nephew Michael Ford, who is also vying for the seat.)
“Too many of us in the African-Canadian communities are co-signing his behaviour,” Domise wrote in an “open letter” to Toronto’s African-Canadian voters.
Domise was dismayed when he watched a group of “gleeful” young people cheering and chanting “Rob Ford” at a Canada Day event where the mayor was stumping for the Oct. 27 election. When Domise confronted Ford and asked him to apologize for using the N-word, Ford shrugged and said, “It’s complicated.”
The reaction to his letter has been “mostly positive,” Domise said. “The people who are really tired of seeing a bunch of black faces trailing along behind Rob Ford are the ones that are thankful that I’m stepping up and countering the narrative that he’s our champion.”
But others are “furious” at Domise. One woman called in to a radio show and accused him of seeking attention. “She said, ‘Nobody has done more for black people than Rob Ford has. He hired Gene Jones (the former head of the Toronto Community Housing Corp.).’
“My question for her,” said Domise, “was ‘How has this changed your life in any way?’”
He’s saddened that “some people … are so attached to this idea that we have no options and no opportunity to get ahead, that anybody who shows up with the remotest amount of kindness, and has political power, we should gather around them.”
These people’s support for Ford, Domise wrote in his letter, is an “upraised middle finger directed at a political class that, from their point of view, could not care less about their quiet struggle.”
Trying to earn a decent living driving a taxi in an increasingly expensive city is challenging, said Naser Kaid. He supports Ford because he is “very accessible.”
“I’ve seen many mayors, like David Miller, and I don’t think any know where Scarborough is,” said Kaid, who lives with his family in social housing.
“This guy (Ford) looks like he’s everywhere. I just like him. I don’t see anything wrong with his job. He’s trying the best for the city.”
Kaid accepts Ford’s explanation that any racial slurs he has used were the result of intoxication — not because he’s racist.
Kaid’s friend, Samuel Getachew, disagrees. He has filed a complaint with the city’s integrity commissioner about Ford’s use of racial slurs. “You can’t support the black community and call us the N-word at the same time,” Getachew said this week.
“I have too many friends who are motivated to support him. I think for them he represents someone who is challenging the system. There’s a misconception that he’s one of us. But I’m not a millionaire. I have nothing in common with him.”
Bryan, raised in foster homes in some of the city’s most impoverished neighbourhoods, says he “gets” Ford’s support in communities ignored by other politicians unless they are “pandering for votes.”
“(Ford) shows up and helps someone fix their door that’s been broken for three months and they say, ‘Hey, this guy is a great guy,’” Bryan said. “His sort of populism appeals to that … ‘I’m just this poor little guy and there are these downtown elites who hold their noses up at us; they don’t come into our communities.’”
But Bryan bristles when he hears claims that Ford has done more for black people than any other politician, or that youths, as Ford has said, would be “dead or in jail,” if it weren’t for him and his football charity.
“It’s patently false,” said Bryan, “but he believes it and he says it and the people who don’t know any better believe it. And that’s unfortunate.”
During last week’s mayoral debate, Ford called himself the king “of helping people at Toronto Community Housing.” This despite earlier this year refusing to support a motion asking Ottawa for $864 million, a one-third share of the $2.6 billion in capital funding required by TCHC over the next decade. The vote in council chamber was 42-2 in favour, with Doug the only other naysayer.
Those struggling to eke out a living in Toronto may not have the time, or inclination, to follow the decision making at city hall closely enough to realize the inconsistencies between Ford’s words and his policy positions, says Bryan.
“It is low information, not necessarily low education,” he said.
For that reason, it’s up to those who are paying attention to bring those who feel left out “into the fold,” and get them involved in the political process, Bryan adds.
“The question to be asked is why do all these black people feel disenfranchised? The answer is larger and has to do with a lot more than Rob Ford.”