To anyone living outside of Toronto, its former mayor, Rob Ford, must seem like the least daunting candidate in the history of politics. His limitations as a candidate are easily found on YouTube: viral clips of the sweaty, rotund man, his voice pinched, smoking crack cocaine. Never mind the personal demons — he can also be found making crude oral sex jokes about a female lawmaker, intimidating a reporter and uttering racist remarks. The campaign ads write themselves.
And yet Ford remains in office, much to the disbelief of those who have failed to defeat him.
In the latest episode of the Candidate Confessional podcast, we interviewed one of the many who have lost to Ford in the hopes that he could maybe explain the man’s hold on power.
Andray Domise ran against Ford in 2014 for a seat on the city council representing Toronto’s Ward 2. At the time, Ford was recovering from cancer and had left the mayor’s race to take a stab at regaining his old council seat.
Although he had experience as a community organizer and civil rights advocate, Domise was a political novice. The question he had to confront when Ford entered the race was just what, exactly, he should use against the former mayor. There was a lot Domise despised: the mismanagement of the city, the overt racism, the fact that Toronto had become a laughingstock around the world.
But when it came to Ford’s most notorious misstep — his use of crack — Domise refused to touch it for ethical reasons.
“Here is the thing. As vile a human being as I think Rob Ford is and can be, I would never go after somebody with an addiction,” Domise said. “Having addiction is a disease. I’m not going to go after somebody who has a disease. Just like I wouldn’t go after him for having cancer, I wouldn’t go after him for having an addiction to alcohol and drugs. I think that that’s completely off base. And what does that indicate? What does that signal to other people in my own community who are dealing with the exact same problems?”
Domise’s decision not to go after Ford’s crack use confounded some donors who, he admitted, told him to attack Ford for it. But beyond his moral reservations, Domise also felt that the subject wouldn’t work politically. He had come to appreciate Ford’s skill at presenting himself as a victim of the media’s obsession. Although Domise knew Ford had done little for the ward, his constituents felt protective of him. There’s a reason that area is known as “Ford Nation.”
“The more the rest of Toronto attacked Rob Ford, the more popular he got [in Ward 2],” said Domise.
Ford had built up that emotional attachment through savvy community outreach. By the time he became the most infamous mayor in the world, the diverse, largely impoverished electorate in the ward felt like he was one of their own. Domise compared him to R. Kelly or Bill Cosby — “people who developed really good reputations within the community they belonged to and then did something horrifically wrong.”
“There’s a lot of people who are just reluctant to let that go,” Domise added. “They say, well, you’ve got to separate the person from their profession. You have to separate Rob Ford the person from Rob Ford the politician.”
Listen to the podcast above, or download it on iTunes. And while you’re there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when our guest will be Richard Carmona, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Arizona in 2012.