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Rob Ford Holds a Graffiti Photo Op

You know how it’s sometimes awkward when one person in a group is way more into something than everyone else? Like, there’s a certain expected level of enthusiasm and one guy completely overshoots it—wears full padding to a pickup football game, say, or brings an RPG to target practice? That’s kind of what Rob Ford’s photo op this morning was like.

The mayor showed up in blue jeans and boots. “These are my up-north cottage boots,” he said to no one in particular as he entered a laneway near St. Clair and Earlscourt avenues along with an assistant and Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport). “My fishing boots!” His large blue sweater had a hole in the back the size of a pinky tip.
The point of the photo op was to promote Ford’s graffiti-eradication program, which he has been pursuing quietly since taking office. By conservative estimates, Municipal Licensing and Standards has, in most downtown wards, issued more graffiti violations in the past four months than in the previous year-and-a-half combined. Building owners must agree to remove graffiti on their own dime; otherwise the city can do it, and bill them.
Some workers from the City’s Transportation Services division had brought a pressure washer to the site. Ford picked up the nozzle and gamely sprayed some tags off a nearby wall, while a throng of reporters watched and recorded footage. This was standard photo-op stuff.
Afterward, the mayor held what’s known as a scrum, which is when reporters from different outlets envelop the object of their attention, as though the reporters are an amoeba, their interview subject the food.
There were one or two questions about graffiti. Then people began asking about the things that were really on their minds.
“Mr. Mayor, Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper were in the GTA today. What do the parties have to do to get Toronto to vote for them?”
“Can we talk about Toronto Community Housing for a quick moment?”
The mayor is notoriously press-shy, and so occasions like these, infrequent as they are, are some of the only opportunities to ask him substantive questions.
“If you have a graffiti question, I’ll answer it. If you want to talk about something else, I’ll need to set up an arrangement,” said Ford. And then after answering a few on-topic queries he picked up the pressure hose again and started blasting the wall with real gusto. The loud droning of the washer made it impossible to converse. He sprayed and sprayed, grinning widely, until his fishing boots were soaked and his face and sweater were flecked with paint. This went on for a solid 10 minutes.
The media had come to get five seconds of footage of Ford holding a hose and maybe some quotes about the issues of the day; Ford had come to clean the hell out of that wall. Most of the graffiti didn’t come off.
“It’s almost like the printing industry. Black is the hardest thing to get off. White’s easy. It’s the pigments,” Ford said to a second scrum. “I’m determined more than ever to get this off.” Then Adrienne Batra, his press secretary, ushered him into a waiting Chevy minivan, license plate: ROB FORD.
“But we haven’t seen you in a week!” cried one TV reporter, as though the mayor had hurt his feelings.
Photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.


  • 00AV

    Its funny watching the Ford administration take ideas from the Harper campaign and vice versa. Control the subject's (Ford/Harper) environment,control / stage the setting to your benefit (ie to reinforce whatever message you have), limit any impromptu questions or interactions, shelter the subject from any real interaction with the public, swiftly remove the subject when real interactions can possibly take place, etc..

  • John Duncan

    The sheer joy Rob Ford gets out of these things makes me feel kind of sorry for him. Being a councillor mainly seemed to make him angry, and being mayor… well, he's spent his term so far either hiding or making hypocritical appointments/poorly thought-out financial decisions (and then hiding some more).
    He obviously feels a real committment to helping people and public service, but just isn't cut out for governing/media attention.

    I think he'd have been a much happier person if he'd spent his adult life working as a labourer/contractor and then starting his own company, instead of inheriting a position atop his dad's company. That path might have lead to the mayoralty too, but I'd be much more comfortable with his grasp of things and hope there'd be less ridiculous nepotism.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    “Most of the graffiti didn't come off.”

    That about says it all. This crackdown won't stop graffiti at all. It's a waste of taxpayer gravy.

  • Mikey Kolberg

    They're gambling that enough of the general public don't care or won't notice. We'll see if they're right.

  • Ken Hunt

    At least Ford looks like he's having a good time. This is the happiest and most natural I've seen him as mayor.

  • joshuahind

    Your use of the term “large blue sweater” is fat-ist and is nothing more than a cheap shot at the man's weight. Why can't we focus on…hahahahaha…

    I'm sorry, I'm just joking. Anyway…

    This anti-graffiti thing is the worst kind of populism; the kind that nobody wants! Yes, tagging is a problem. And yes, taggers should be strung up by their toes and beaten with a fish (a big one), but dealing with graffiti after the fact does NOTHING to stop it's proliferation.

    Not only that, but the policy puts the responsibility on the victims. Business owners have their buildings sullied and then the city gives them a bill for the clean. It's a 2-for-1!!

    Also, can we make a distinction between graffiti and tagging. Graffiti can indeed enrich the urban environment, but tagging is vandalism. I have to imagine we have enough aesthetically intelligent people in this city to create a workable distinction.

  • joshuahind

    Maybe he'd be a lot happier as a well-paid city employee.

  • Adam Weitner

    Talk about GRAVY!

  • adamd1

    Given that one of Rob Ford's key priorities upon becoming mayor of Toronto was a “transparent and accountable government”, I don't know that I can believe a single word this guy ever says.

    This is a massive waste of taxpayer money. As a taxper, I do not feel respected.

    I am genuinely concerned at what kind of shape Toronto as a city will be in by the end of 2012, and whether it's a place I'll still want to live. I'm sure I will but who knows with this guy at the helm?

  • amugsgame

    I kind of wish they'd move City Hall to Etobicoke for the next four years so that Rob didn't have to come downtown. I get uncomfortable when he's around.

  • Steve Keys

    Maybe he shouldn't have mentioned that black is hard to clean off.

  • torontothegreat

    I know I've said otherwise before, but I can concede that you are 100% correct.

  • droy50

    Maybe next time the media won't show up? What's the point really if he isn't going to address anything substantive.

  • Robert Stemmler

    That's what I would love to see happen–imagine what it would mean for the mayor of any city to lose access to the press. And considering how much Ford restricts the press' access to the current government, it would certainly be an apt tit-for-tat.

  • EmiliaBedelia

    i am lovin' these photos.

  • Paul Kishimoto

    It's the pigments.

  • istoronto

    I guess the only solution for the victims is not to have walls. If Ford continues charging victims for something they have no control over, they'll probably end up having no walls. Call it what it is..a tax! Got to make up the loss of the $60/ car VRT, somehow.

  • Randy

    The difference between the two would be that graffiti is done with consent, and tagging is not, right?

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    It's done with my consent. :)

  • pickle_juice_drinker

    This reminds me of the occasional Bin Laden tape. Released entirely to prove to the world that the mayor is, in fact, still alive.

  • pickle_juice_drinker

    He used to like being a councillor too.

    He never hid from the media then either. Have we have a good Youtube Ford rant about nothing since he became Mayor? I kind of miss those. Doug just isn't as funny.

  • Simon Vehicle!

    I think the best thing to do to discourage graffiti, which is a rebellious act of expression, is to try to engineer a crackdown on it making it more taboo.


  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    I noticed in the photos at BlogTO that the wall was previously whitewashed.

    It didn't occur to Ford, or anyone in his Nation, to simply paint it white again!

  • 00AV

    But then how would he be able to grandstand with a power washer?

  • tomwest

    “dealing with graffiti after the fact does NOTHING to stop it's proliferation.”
    I disagree. If graffiti was always cleaned off within 24 hours of it appearing, then it would dampen vandals' desire. Most do it to leave some sort of semi-permament mark on the world, or so people can see their work.

    Given the city has the specalist equipment, maybe they should offer a service to buisness owners. You ring up the city, pay a standard fee, and they come and clean it off.

  • isyouhappy

    “Graffiti can indeed enrich the urban environment, but tagging is vandalism. I have to imagine we have enough aesthetically intelligent people in this city to create a workable distinction.”

    Correction, both are vandalism, and that's the way it should stay, as that's where the culture comes from. No matter what, artists are going to keep doing what they do whether tagging or graffiti, legitimizing, or declaring one or the other vandalism is not going to keep people away.

    I'll have to disagree with your 'aesthetically intelligent people declaring tagging vandalism' statement as I value the expressive hand rendered letterforms in tagging, the lack of meaning/context that allows a viewer to focus on shape of the letter. I enjoy the quickness and brutality of the act of quickly writing a bunch of letters on a wall in public space.

    I like that people 'don't get' tagging… isn't that where graffiti started off? Coded illustrative language that was for a certain group of people? What's the difference between an artist spraying a cutesy sentence like 'I love you' or spraying red hearts all over the side of a wall? Is this more legitimate because we can understand it/ that it's 'safe'?

    And is all really such a huge problem? God knows Ford would never go on some huge campaign to clean up the crass commercialization of our public space. I'd rather my city have some character and messiness.

  • isyouhappy

    This post and the photos only serve to further his goal with this photo op. I know the article is showcasing the lack of access the media has with the mayor, but you know if you don't like it don't play his games. Obviously I'm not saying stop covering important issues, but really, this isn't an important issue, and if those in the media that are complaining started ignoring these puppet shows, because really, was anyone expecting him to say anything, wouldn't we all be better off?

    I like the idea that was posted above, if media never showed up to these photo-ops, we'd still be in the same position as we are now, yet Ford wouldn't have ammunition to say that the lamestream media is always hounding him when he's 'trying to roll up his sleeves and do some cleanin'!'

  • isyouhappy

    Correction, sorry, this is an important issue (the lack of media accessibility), the graffiti clean up discussion is the non issue.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    It's a Prisoner's Dilemma. Media can't risk not showing up in case he does say or do something significant, or agrees to answers questions.

  • isyouhappy

    sad but true

  • isyouhappy

    well they can still show up, but there's no need to report on nothing…?

  • qviri

    Media can't risk not showing up in case he does say or do something significant

    I wouldn't say that's a big risk.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    “If graffiti was always cleaned off within 24 hours of it appearing…”

    The vast majority of graffiti isn't in such obvious places that anyone might notice it that quickly. The stuff that tends to get on everyone's nerves is tagging, which is dashed out in seconds. It would be a war of attrition, and markers/spray paint/etc are much cheaper and easier to deploy than pressure washer trucks and platoons of paintrollers.

    Even if it were possible to succeed, it would simply displace the graffiti to less visible locations and places that would normally escape the attention of taggers.

    “You ring up the city, pay a standard fee, and they come and clean it off.”

    That doesn't solve the problem of property owners held responsible for the actions of others.

  • Robert Stemmler

    Exactly it. Show up, if he doesn't say anything worth reporting, then find another story. There's no reason to give the mayor the photo op he wants.

  • Ronny

    Well now that he is destroying the art that he doesn't like, I'm wondering when he will have his first book burning?

  • tomwest

    “That doesn't solve the problem of property owners held responsible for the actions of others.”
    No, it doesn't, unfortunately – and I don't like the idea of fining property owners.
    However, you seem to be saying that graffiti artists are impossible to catch, and that no-one else should pay to clean up the results of their actions. That would lead to graffiti never been cleaned up.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    “That would lead to graffiti never been cleaned up.”

    Not at all – it would mean graffiti is removed up if and when the property owner, not the City, decides to remove it.

  • tomwest

    … which means the property owner pays for clean up, which you oppose.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    At least the property owner would have a say in the matter.

  • tomwest

    … which means the property owner pays for clean up, which you oppose.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    At least the property owner would have a say in the matter.