In the field of candiates for mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford now polls in the number two spot among decided voters. Since only about half the voters have made up their minds so far, it doesn't do to take these polls without a large grain of salt, but his performance should definitely wake up those who snickered that a man with his body mass index and antediluvian ideas shouldn't even think of running for mayor. It doesn't do to underestimate Rob Ford.
It doesn't do because behind the well-known personality, Rob Ford has a coherent, consistent theory of government. All the public positions I have seen him take point to a belief in a minimally intrusive government, service oriented and responsive at the local level. Thus, for example, he supports or at least tolerates bike lanes in the downtown and inner suburbs, where people manifestly want them. If he has changed his previously expressed opinion about urban cycling, that would mean he has changed his opinion in light of voter sentiment; a rare attribute in a politician. I have no reason to doubt his commitment to service oriented government, either. Any time I have had cause to contact him, I have received a reply the same day.
So what kind of mayor would Rob Ford make? He would do some things well. He would clear bureaucracy out of the way of local initiatives in public parks, particularly self-funded ones. He might well set new standards for responsiveness in Toronto's government. On the minus side, Rob Ford's belief in minimal government would mean that without either a regional authority or a public-private partnership to get the work done, he wouldn't expand the TTC. Transit City would stay on hold. Mr. Ford's reliance on local initiatives and opinion in policy making makes coordinating city-wide initiatives difficult, if not impossible. Mr. Ford's record in council also makes it difficult to see how he will put together the majorities he will need to govern effectively. And some of his ideas, like trying to bring back Julian Fantino as Toronto's police chief, simply don't make sense.
The time has come, in fact it has long passed, for those who do not want to see Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto, as well as those of us who simply think someone else could lead the city better, to stop trying to make Rob Ford into a joke. The audience has stopped laughing. We have to engage seriously with Mr. Ford and his ideas, and present better ones.