Toronto city hall

Ford implosion shouldn’t impact tourism

Toronto city hall

A zipliner has fun at Toronto City Hall during last year’s Grey Cup festivities. Municipal politics in Toronto appear to be in for a hard landing thanks to mayor Rob Ford’s hijinks. (Julia Pelish/ file photo)

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — If there’s one thing that can be said about the mayor of Toronto, it’s that he’s really putting his city on the map.

My pen pal in Lübeck, Germany is talking about Rob Ford and Toronto. An associate of mine, who just returned from Australia, reported that the mayor is making news down under. A college buddy of mine, who is a Canadian now living in Virginia, was telling Co-Founder Adrian Brijbassi how horrible it is for him to see Toronto portrayed in the news this way. My family in New York, Houston, St. Kitt’s, Antigua, and Anguilla have all asked my opinion about Rob Ford, as if I have some inner understanding of what is going on in his mind or at Toronto City Hall. Truth be told, I have difficulty following Toronto’s dysfunctional politics on a sunny day without the drama, let alone with a full-scale train wreck in progress thanks to Ford.

Not since the Blue Jays won their first World Series over Atlanta in 1992 can I remember this much buzz (pardon the pun) about Toronto. If not for the carnage in the Philippines from the typhoon and the Obamacare website debacle, the spectacle that is Rob Ford would be the top story on earth.

But of course, it’s not all jokes. It’s raw, unbelievable, unpredictable, toxic, hilarious, public, grotesque and sad — all at the same time. As comical and outrageous as it may be to hear a sitting mayor talk openly in a media scrum about performing oral sex, I can’t say it was very entertaining watching his apology with his grief-stricken wife standing by his side. It’s awful to see the impact this is having on his family — especially his wife and brother, councillor Doug Ford — and those true, close friends who want to help him.

And that was last week. Since then, he has been stripped of almost all his powers and had his budget slashed, reducing him to a mayor in name only. Oh yeah, and he knocked over a city councillor in a video you simply have to see to believe. If this isn’t rock bottom, I shudder to think what rock bottom for this man is going to look like.

A hard-working, reputable, intelligent man is coming apart at the seems. And along for this gut-wrenching, painful, drunken-stupor of a roller-coaster ride is the good name of the city Ford had sworn an oath to represent and protect.

Rob Ford Will Not Affect Toronto Tourism 

Toronto’s rep has clearly taken a beating over this unprecedented situation — that much is evident with the way late-night comedy heavyweights like Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman have been teeing off on Toronto’s hapless mayor. More than the mayor, what has drawn some of the most bemusement from our American friends is the fact that city council is powerless to do anything to remove him, with Fallon asking during one of his monologues, “What the hell does he have to do to get fired?”

And that was last week. Since then, the Ford circus has continued undaunted with Saturday Night Live leading its segment with a spoof of his drug habit and Stewart and Letterman taking fresh shots. Even Ron Burgundy got into the act on Conan O’Brien’s show.

But while the world may be pointing its finger in disbelief and chuckling at Toronto’s expense, nobody is connecting Toronto the Good with Rob Ford the Ridiculous, at least not yet. The tourists are still flocking to the Toronto Zoo, ROM and Maple Leaf games. The hotels are still being used. The Metro Convention Centre is still booking events. The business of the city continues to function, even if council can’t.

And as sad as this is to say, Toronto is hardly the first city or state to go through this. If misery loves company then take heart, Toronto, because there are several examples of cities around the world who have struggled with leadership that had either engaged in criminal activity, sexual misconduct, or had simply lost their minds. From Washington to Illinois, it’s apparent that a juicy scandal may scare away common sense, but not tourists:

  • The Economist recently ran a story called “Canada’s Misbehaving Mayors,” which also touched on some of the issues Montreal was having.
  • Illinois prisons are filled with former governors. Four of the state’s last seven governors were convicted of crimes and imprisoned.
  • Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for corruption.
  • Bob Filner, the former mayor of San Diego, had to leave office under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations and recently pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and battery charges involving three women.
  • Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., Jim West of Spokane, Washington, Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, California, and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles are other mayors who have found themselves embroiled in scandal over the years.
  • BBC reported that in Spain former mayor of Marbella Marisol Yague was sentenced to six years in a corruption scandal. A total of 85 men and women were accused in what is thought to be the biggest-ever case of local political corruption in Spanish history.
  • The Latin American Herald Tribune reported that in the Argentine province of Santiago del Estero, the mayor of its capital city, Julio Alegre, resigned after the judiciary raided his homes looking for evidence in a huge fraud cases.

Those are only a few examples and last we checked, tourists are still flocking to San Diego, Washington, and Montreal. And here’s more good news, albeit with a sad twist: as annoying, aggravating, and distracting as scandals are, they’re also common. And if there’s one thing the public will never be accused of, it’s having a long memory. Former US president Bill Clinton is one of the most popular politicians in the world, and his reckless behaviour while in office is legendary.

That doesn’t mean Rob Ford hasn’t hurt the brand. Without question, Toronto’s good name has suffered. According to a CBC article, while the Ford coverage has undoubtedly raised awareness of Toronto all over the globe, marketing experts say it has also damaged the city’s image abroad.

“It weakens the brand, it distorts it, and it gives us media [coverage] all over the world that is undesirable,” says Gabor Forgacs, a professor at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in the CBC article entitled “Mayor Rob Ford’s crack use ‘weakens’ Toronto’s brand.”

But in my opinion, it’s nothing to worry about. The public will laugh. The public will groan. Journalists will write scathing editorials. Comedians will have their fun and find new fools to skewer on their late-night shows. People will protest the mayor and support him on the doorstep of City Hall. The lawyers will wrangle. The mayor will continue to fumble and self destruct and make outrageous statements as exasperated parents cover their children’s ears. And as more embarrassing information comes to light over the coming weeks, mayor Ford will apologize again. And again. And again. And through all of it we predict that the tourists will keep on coming.

Lighten up, Toronto. This too, shall pass.

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Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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