"I Won't Back Down," Ford Pledges at Campaign Launch
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“I Won’t Back Down,” Ford Pledges at Campaign Launch

Last night, Toronto's embattled mayor launched his re-election bid surrounded by hundreds of supporters.

Mayor Rob Ford officially launched his re-election campaign last night with a promise to keep taxes low and to fight for accountability at Toronto City Hall. In a speech that lasted almost half an hour, Ford repeated his widely disputed claim of having saved taxpayers a billion dollars, and assured supporters he would find more “efficiencies” if given a second term.

“I’ve got a message for all those caviar Calvins, and those special-interest Sallys: you said it couldn’t be done. Well, guess what? We got it done!” Ford said to screaming supporters from the stage at the expansive Toronto Congress Centre on Dixon Road.

Ford never directly referred to the scandal and dysfunction surrounding his administration. No mention was made of the loss of almost all members of his original staff team, the ongoing police investigation, the notorious videos, or his admissions of having purchased and smoked crack cocaine during his term in office. His speech, though, was nevertheless a clear response to his critics and detractors.

“No matter what mud gets thrown at me, I won’t back down!” said Ford.

His slogan-heavy speech contained no new policy ideas—instead, it played directly to the loyalty of his supporters, who interrupted frequently with chants of “You’re number one!” and “Rob Ford for mayor!”

Residents from across Toronto and the GTA came to take part in the festivities. The event had the feel of a political party convention: Ford marched to the stage led by a band of bagpipers, with dozens of sign-waving supporters in tow. The massive crowd was a mixture of steadfast supporters, memorabilia hunters looking to pick up some Ford bobbleheads, and curious residents interested in experiencing the Ford Nation phenomenon.

While Ford was speaking, there were nearly a thousand people crowded around the stage or seated in the front section of the main hall; the rear section, which had tables set for several hundred more, was virtually empty. Many of the hundreds who formed lengthy queues to buy bobbleheads promptly exited the main hall after making their purchases.

A recurring theme among the Ford supporters we met was the belief that he stands with poor and middle-class Torontonians. “He’s not about trying to make it better for the rich folks; he’s trying to make it better for the people who don’t have,” said a young man named Troy. “And that’s the biggest reason I support him, ’cause I don’t got much.”

Anna, who said she planned to vote for Ford in the upcoming election, echoed this sentiment: “He’s working for all the people. And that’s something I support, ’cause I’m not a wealthy person.”

Apart from Ford’s brother and campaign manager Doug (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), Councillor Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1, Etobicoke North) was one of only three sitting councillors in attendance at the event (Cesar Palacio, of Ward 17, Davenport, and John Filion, of Ward 23, Willowdale were the others). Crisanti praised Ford for delivering his message to average Torontonians, and said the councillors who voted to strip Ford of most of his authority last year would be compelled to support him if he’s re-elected on October 27. “When you’re the mayor of the city and people vote you in, council has to listen to that message,” Crisanti told us in an interview following Ford’s speech.

Not all those in attendance were sure Ford could overcome the adversity he’s faced in the last year. Arvind, a resident of the Yonge and Eglinton area, said Ford’s downtown-versus-suburbs message was losing steam. “I think Ford developed it as a strategy, and I think it might come around and bite him in the ass this time around, “Arvind said. “I don’t think we’re as divided as he makes it out to be.”

CORRECTION: April 18, 2014, 2:20 PM This post originally neglected to mention that Councillor John Filion was in attendance at the campaign launch and that Doug Ford is a sitting councillor.