Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Three months after a judge ruled to remove him from office, our favorite mayoral personality is back in business.
Rob Ford, the on-again, off-again Toronto mayor and one of this website's most reliable providers of humorous content, has won his appeal to remain mayor of Canada's largest city.
Ford was reportedly "very, very thankful" for the decision. "This has been a very humbling experience," the usually bellicose and outspoken mayor told reporters this morning at Toronto City Hall.
In November, a judge ruled that Ford had violated the city's conflict-of-interest law -- for voting on a decision involving money accepted by his football foundation -- and removed him from office. The Appeals Court found today that the City Council had no authority to force Ford to pay back that money, and so his vote on the matter was not a conflict of interest.
The news this morning has met a surprisingly consistent reaction in the press: Toronto may not love its mayor (who won a three-way election with 47 percent of the vote), but they should hope that he loses at the ballot box, rather than in the courtroom.
Marcus Gee, writing in the Globe and Mail, writes that even the mayor's opponents should appreciate the return to normalcy:
Ousting the Mayor of Canada’s largest city over a relatively minor conflict-of-interest complaint would have been an extraordinarily unusual and unfortunate event. It would have overturned the result of an election that saw Mr. Ford elected with 47 per cent of the vote. It would have left his legion of followers feeling angry and disenfranchised. It would have presented city council with a tough and unprecedented decision: whether to hold a by-election or fill the office by appointment. It would have left Toronto at least temporarily without an effective leader at a time when it faces a host of difficult issues, from whether to approve a downtown casino to how to fund transit expansion.
Now, at least, we have some clarity. Toronto has a mayor. The downside is that the Mayor is Rob Ford. His two years as mayor have been littered with pratfalls and errors of leadership. His accomplishments, from reining in spending to striking deals with city unions to contracting out some garbage collection service, have been overshadowed by his numerous and notorious antics. He has proved a poor leader of city council, unable to build the coalitions or compromises necessary to make city government work. He has often seemed only half interested in his job, showing up late for work and stealing off to coach football in the middle of city council meetings.
Matt Elliott writes in Metro that an upheld decision might have made the mayor into a martyr:
And so, even with solid and well-reasoned legal arguments behind them, I was never a huge fan of citizen Paul Magder and lawyer Clayton Ruby’s push to remove the mayor from office prior to the end of his term in 2014. It put the opportunity represented by 2014 in jeopardy. Had things gone the other way for Ford — had he been removed from office on a judicial decree — it could have pushed him toward a kind of political martyrdom. Instead of going down as the politician whose ideas didn’t work for Toronto, he’d leave office as the fiscally-sensible mayor who so enraged his progressive detractors that they ran him out of town on a rail.
A Globe editorial agreed with that sentiment, though it cautioned that his reprieve -- perhaps even more so than his initial removal -- came on a technicality. Nevertheless, the paper hopes that the decision will affect Ford's attitude towards governing:
We hope Mr. Ford has learned the right lesson from all this. He needs to stop trying to bully his way through his term. He needs to stop pretending that the ordinary rules of city life, let alone city politics, don’t apply to him. They do.
The Star says good riddance to the whole case, which was something of an embarrassment for Toronto politics -- but it's no victory for Ford:
After undergoing a political near-death experience, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has every right to be relieved. But he has no cause to be proud in the wake of his Friday court victory.
Quite the opposite. Ford is like a sleepwalker in a minefield. He stepped on one and it turned out to be a dud. But what about the next potential explosion, and the one after that? Unless Ford wakes up, opens his eyes, and changes his thoughtless ways, he’ll never be the mayor Toronto truly needs.
Elsewhere, there was humor to be found -- as there always is where Ford is concerned:
We are happy to hear that Toronto's great mayor Rob Ford gets to remain in office. Our best customer!— Burger John's (@BurgerJohns) January 25, 2013
The lawyer who brought suit against Ford has said he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, and more information on Ford's shifty finances is expected next week. So stay tuned for that.
The biggest critique of the court's decision this morning came from Ford's most famous opponent and challenger:
Can anybody get me a lunch with the Supreme Court of Canada leader? #yeswecanseco— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) January 25, 2013
Calming down. Looking into setting up Toronto govt in exile in Vegas for the next two years. Come join me.#yeswecanseco— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) January 25, 2013
Top image: Mark Blinch/Reuters