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.