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At Ford Fest 2013, the Mayor Was King For a Day

Ford Fest 2013 was a carnival of retail politics and free hamburgers.

In the opinions of some Torontonians, Rob Ford is an ineffective mayor who misleads the public about the City’s budget, his own accomplishments while in office, and his alleged drug use. On Friday evening, Thomson Memorial Park in Scarborough became a kind of alternate universe where, instead of any of those things, Ford was a king.

The event was Ford Fest, Ford’s annual public barbecue. In past years, he’s held it in Etobicoke, at his mother’s house, where the backyard can easily accommodate hundreds of guests. This year’s change of venue is part of what the Ford brothers have described as a “tour” of the city. Others have interpreted the move as a bid to get a jump on the 2014 mayoral campaign in a key battleground district. (A second Ford Fest is expected to be held in Etobicoke later this summer.)

The mayor’s camp pegs Friday’s attendance at around 20,000, which would be an all-time record high. While we have no way of confirming that number, it doesn’t sound that far fetched. The park was already crowded by 6:30 p.m.

There were a few globs of people around some kiddie midway rides that had been set up in different places, and some attendees had gathered around a tent where a cover band was playing songs by performers like Adele and Rihanna. But one of the biggest draws was a little portable awning off to the left of the bandstand. It was surrounded by a crowd four or five people deep, and there was a 20-minute lineup to get at whatever was inside. Was it free beer? A balloon artist? A guy with lobster claws for hands?

No. It was Rob Ford. Except for a couple forays over to the microphone to give stump speeches, the mayor would spend almost the entire event in that exact spot, receiving adulation, shaking hands, and hearing complaints. He was literally holding court.

A man in the handshake line said his name was Tony, and that he lived in East York. He said he was a Ford supporter, and that newspaper reports about the mayor’s alleged misbehaviour didn’t bother him in the least.

“If anything, they make our resolve even stronger,” Tony said. “Even if it was true, and it takes a little crack to do what he’s done for the city, he’s done more than any other mayor.”


Feasting on Ford Fest

Tony was a white guy in his forties, but he wasn’t in the majority. The crowd was made up of people of many ethnicities and of all ages. Seeing Ford Nation gathered in all its diversity was a reminder that the mayor was elected with 47 per cent of the vote in 2010. If Ford Fest was anything to judge by, his appeal remains broad. His latest approval ratings lend some support to this notion.

The only lineups longer than the mayor’s were the ones for free food and drink. At the height of the event, the wait for a hamburger was well over 90 minutes. (The lineup for beer was somewhat shorter.)

A 26-year-old Scarberian named Daniel, who had been waiting in the burger line for 45 minutes, had only heard about Ford Fest earlier in the day. He said he had no defined opinions about the mayor. As to the drug allegations: “If it happened, it happened,” he said. “I don’t really care.”

Ford Fest peaked at around 8 p.m. when the leader of the cover band, a Filipino singer named Jenny James, serenaded the mayor with a song she’d written about him. It was an upbeat, guitar-driven anthem that wouldn’t be out of place over the opening credits of a Rob Ford Saturday-morning cartoon. (Which, come to think of it, would be a great way for the mayor to expand his reach beyond the Sunday talk-radio crowd.) Members of the audience had been provided with printed lyric sheets, as though we were expected to doff our hats and sing along. (You can listen to the song on YouTube, if you’re curious.)

Afterward, Mayor Ford took the mic. The newsworthy part of the speech was an announcement that Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough Agincourt) would be the next deputy mayor, assuming Doug Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), the current deputy mayor, is elected as the next Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP in August. Ford also recommitted himself to building more subway stops in Scarborough. This is a 2010 campaign promise the mayor has never come close to fulfilling, but has lately been trying to revive. As he put it:

Ford: There’s one thing I promise I’m gonna get: those subways. Mark my words, these subways are coming.

Crowd: Subways! Subways! Subways! Subways!

Ford: I have to be politically correct. I could tell you where we wanted to send those LRTs [that is, Scarborough’s light-rail transit line, which is already planned and funded], but like I said, I can’t. I gotta behave. LRTs can go somewhere, but subways are coming to Scarborough. Guaranteed. Guaranteed.

In reality, the mayor has limited say over how and where money is spent on transit infrastructure. This type of guarantee, without any actual funding or plan, is one only a monarch could make. At Ford Fest, though, Ford was king, and he acted the part.

CORRECTION: July 8, 2013, 11:50 AM This post originally said that Ford Fest happened on Saturday evening. In fact, it was Friday.


  • OgtheDim


    (Hey, I could sing a song about that…might be as good as that one put out Jenny James)

    • SteveKupferman

      Aw, man. Corrected.

  • Roy Schulze

    Bread and circuses.

    • wklis

      Good thing it wasn’t on election day. On election day, it would have been considered vote buying.

      However, as it is, Rob is already campaigning before the legal start.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        Don’t worry, mere laws won’t stop him.

      • guest1

        You should see the events Glen D. puts on in the ward, also held at Thomson Park, or that doesn’t count???

        • guest1

          Not sure why alluding to one event as vote buying, cannot be said about another city councillor who does the same thing.

          • OgtheDim

            Sure, lets compare the Glen D things to Ford fest.

            Got an example of a Glen DeB event so we can do an apples to apples comparison?

          • OgtheDim

            Ok maybe ur power went out but…….care to discuss?

      • Guy_in_Kingston

        Usually they buy votes with Welfare programs. Nice to see someone who actually cares for the people who pay to run the City.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    ‘”If anything, they make our resolve even stronger,” Tony said. “Even if it was true, and it takes a little crack to do what he’s done for the city, he’s done more than any other mayor.”’

    Seriously? Fuck you, Tony.

  • OgtheDim

    Serious question:

    Who pays for the cops at these events?

    • Kevin Stewart

      Presumably since it’s a basically a private even the police would be required to get the permits. They’d be on pay duty and it would come out of the organizers’ pockets. It’s the same as for any major event.

  • Rick City

    Ford says things that he knows won’t happen (“I’m going to build subways!”) in order to make people happy. Then, when those things don’t happen, he blames council or liberals or the media and it makes him even more popular. People see him as the “voice of the people” fighting against the elite.

    I completely disagree with everything about him, but it’s not really a surprise that he’s so popular.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      “You can fool some of the people all of the time.”

      • KRoberts

        “But you can’t fool all the people all the time. So now we see the light (what you gonna do?),
        We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah! ) ”

        Are we though…really? I guess the polls and how many choose to attend them will decide…

  • grinning dog

    If I wasn’t so lazy I would check to make sure he had obtained the appropriate permits.

    • Dogma

      Wouldn’t matter . If he didn’t have the permits it would only make him more popular in the eyes of Ford Nation.

      • grinning dog

        Sadly you’re totally correct.

  • Dogma

    The depressing reality is that people will sell their souls for a $60 reduction on their tax bill and being told they can have the moon (subways) without having to pay for it.

  • Dimetre Alexiou

    The mayor clearly doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “guaranteed.” In his campaign, he said, no service cuts…”guaranteed”, remember? And we would have lost libraries and other services, if council hadn’t collectively rose up against him.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      He knows his base doesn’t remember that far back, but that they’ll believe anyone who mentions his failures is just attacking him for conspiracy and/or personal reasons.

      • wklis

        Unfortunately, with Rob’s “guarantee”, we don’t get our votees back if not satisfied. Now, where did I put that receipt?

  • vampchick21

    I wonder…would a Rob Ford Saturday afternoon cartoon be a good thing? Or a bad thing? Somehow I have Adventure Time, Spongebob Squarepants, Power Puff Girls and My LIttle Pony all mashed together with the constant plot line of Ford trying to dig a subway tunnel with his bare hands, constantly fighting off Evil Lefties with only the help of his brother. And ponies. (who look more like the Robot Chicken parody instead of the regular ones….). And now the thought of a Rob Ford cartoon done by the creators of Robot Chicken have me both intruiged and frightened.

  • Steeplejack

    If you wonder where the support for the mayor keeps coming from, keep referring to the people who show up at events like this as belonging to “globs”. His fans and followers don’t pay much attention to race or skin colour, like you’ve pointed out. What they pay attention to is being mocked by people likely more highly educated than they are. Or who talk down to them, or consider them of no account because of the more menial jobs they do or because they aren’t stylish or “Urban”.

    • OgtheDim

      So what you are saying is politics are based on who dislikes you?

      Or what job you have?

      Or your education?

      How British of you.

      Meh….some of us base politics on things like financial prudence, getting things done and reading the effin manual. Which is why many of us on the right in this city think Ford is NOT what this city really needs.

      BTW, as far as I have read in this article, and in the comments, nobody commented on the education levels or jobs of people who support Ford.
      i.e. ur projecting

    • Dogma

      Here’s my take on Rob Ford supporters. There’s geographic similarity for many of them, ie being in the suburbs does play a role, financially they’re all over the map, though if we broke it down by professions we would see some trends. But the key point is they think they’re paying too much in taxes and don’t really care about city services so long as the water keeps flowing and the fire department shows up when there’s a fire. So, they’ll keep supporting Rob Ford because they see him as cutting taxes and city services.

      A small minority of them love Rob Ford because they figure he hates the people they hate and he’s sticking it to the people they don’t like. It’s those people you see patrolling comment boards talking up Rob Ford. But they don’t really represent “Ford Nation.”

      Now, as for what his fans and followers pay attention to? Beats me, if the last two years have taught us anything it’s that they’re prepared to tune out any and all criticism of him. Given that I can’t imagine anything I say about him OR them is going to make a lick of difference in whether they support him or not. Come hell or high water 30 to 35 per cent of the population will vote for Rob Ford. I’m more worried about where the rest of the city decides to park their votes.

      • steeplejack

        A sensible and courteous response and I thank you Dogma.

      • Guy_in_Kingston

        They must be the 30-35 percent who pay tax to the City instead of receiving handouts from the City.

    • dsmithhfx

      Rob Ford is a loudmouth, incompetent bully and professional politician who has showed up drunk on the job (when he showed up at all), and has been photographed and, allegedly, videotaped in the company of known drug dealers who are now dead or in jail.

      If you are willing to overlook all of that in our mayor and vote for him again, you are dumber than you talk.

      • steeplejack

        What do you mean ‘again’? I did not vote for him the first time around, and if you wish to speak of bullying you’re pretty quick to negatively comment on somebody else’s intelligence. Adam Giambrone has proven to be lying two-timer in the past as well and yet people are willing to overlook his proven insincerity and make him a candidate for the NDP. I guess human foibles are only forgivable for people with whom you have (and I mean ‘you’ in the general, not specific sense) a political and social affinity with.

        • dsmithhfx

          Being an apologist for a bunch of know-nothings doesn’t get you a free pass, and I ‘m not an Adam Giambrone or NDP supporter.

      • Guy_in_Kingston

        and yet He seems to do a good job……and is very popular. If only the Libtards running the province could be so effective. The’re to busy covering their tracks for all there lying and wrong doing they have done.

        • dsmithhfx

          Seems to be doing a good job. The city is $800,000,000 deeper in debt after 2 1/2 years of misrule, misbehavior and broken promises. We can’t afford him.

  • Guy_in_Kingston

    People people who pay taxes really seem to like the guy. It’s nice to see someone who doesn’t pander to the non-contributors. He seems to represent the people who actually pay for Toronto……rather then the people who live off it.

    Looks like a nice BBQ….I wish he could be the Mayor in this hell hole.

    • dsmithhfx

      I wish he could too.