Listen, not to defend whatever the hell the mayor did now, but…

Earlier today, Rob Ford admitted to reading while driving on the Gardiner Expressway, after a photo of him doing so went viral on Twitter. Although this isn’t technically illegal, I think we’re all in agreement that it’s a dangerous and stupid thing to do.

All of us, that is, except the mayor, whose so-called admission when he was asked about the matter at a news conference this morning was actually a rather cavalier “Yeah, probably.” He didn’t technically say he’d done it; he just acknowledged that it sounded like something he’d do.

“I’m busy,” he said. “I’m trying to catch up on my work and keep my eyes on the road. But I’m a busy man.”

Some would argue that this is why taxpayers are happy to pay for drivers for high-ranking public officials – including not only the police, but also the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who said he should “absolutely” hire one.

The mayor, however, dismissed the entire line of questioning. ”I don’t know what that has to do with [the “trade mission” to Chicago],” Ford said, in reference to the point of the news conference, “but anyways. Ridiculous questions sometimes, seriously.”

In fairness to the mayor, if I were in his position, I think by now I’d be pretty tired of answering “ridiculous questions” about my behaviour. But in fairness to rest of us, I also like to think I’d have enough self-awareness to know that it was my own fault for behaving so… let’s say “questionably,” on what’s become a regular basis.

There’s a flip side to that coin, though. I’ve been trying to figure out the best and most delicate way to say it, because I don’t want to be accused of defending the mayor’s reckless driving, or any of his other low moments. But instead, I think I’ll just say it:

Even though I’m sick of the mayor winding up on the front page for doing something stupid, and I recognize that it’s his fault for doing that stupid thing, I’m also getting sick of the way we react to it. Especially online, where the whole thing becomes a contest to prove how progressive we are using only hashtags and snark.

I’m guilty of it myself, so if you want to point fingers, go ahead. I’m not saying I’m better or more mature than anyone else. What I am saying is that today in particular, among all the tweets and Facebook updates I’ve been reading, I’ve been picking up on a general sense of weariness. It’s a subtle but distinct hint of “Christ, not this again,” and it isn’t all that different from the mayor’s obvious exasperation over the latest round of “ridiculous questions.”

But we line up and do it again, like we did today. The mayor offers another round of belligerent excuses, the Internet whips up another batch of “look at our idiot mayor” jokes, and the media post the best of those jokes on their websites, call it City Hall coverage, and take the rest of the day off.

The mayor’s not going to be the one to break that cycle. The only way he could would be to stop doing boorish and dangerous things, and sadly, there’s nothing in his pattern of behaviour to suggest he will between now and the end of his term.

The press won’t be the ones to break that cycle. There are plenty of insightful journalists and columnists who are happy to cover municipal politics by focusing on the issues and the factors that affect them. They’re vital to our city, and they should be commended for the work they do. But they can’t be expected to prop up their papers and networks themselves, and with the mayor serving up so many gaffes and his citizens offering up so much retweetable outrage, why should they? That sort of stuff makes for quick, cheap and compelling copy.

Again, this isn’t to excuse the mayor’s behaviour, and it’s certainly not to make light of any elected official’s misconduct – or in this case, “probable” reckless disregard for fellow drivers. But it’s getting tougher by the day to picture the one great gaffe that would actually cost the mayor his job at this point, and it’s getting easier to feel like these outbursts and outrages are taking up too damned much of our collective time.

I think a lot of us are tired of the same old cycle, even as we grudgingly admit that we play our own role in it. The good news is, I think we’re also in the best position to break it.

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3 Responses to “Listen, not to defend whatever the hell the mayor did now, but…”

  1. Tom says:

    I disagree with the statement that this “isn’t technically illegal”. It very much is illegal. It falls squarely under the “distracted driving” rules. While the distracted driving law was designed to prevent the use of electronic devices, the MTO’s website highlights “reading maps or other materials” as a cause of distraction.

    There are some other points that I think are missed, particularly related to how public figures are held to a higher standard, they should serve as role models (and someone who is proud of his football coach pedigree should appreciate that), etc. but those are matters of opinion. The fact is the Mayor did something dangerous and illegal and that deserves consequences.

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks, Tom. My source on “not technically illegal” was the police statement cited in the article linked to in the first paragraph, which states that charges can’t be laid unless Ford had committed another offense at the same time.

    The safety regulations you’ve linked to, which of course are all great ideas, don’t appear to be the strict letter of the law.

    That said, I do wonder if he’ll concede to getting a driver. And I do wonder what the reaction will be if he doesn’t.

  3. Ian MacIntyre says:

    Personally, I think this is all part of a broader effort on the Ford side at this point. Not that the distracted driving was premeditated, but we’re at a point in Ford’s term where he has clearly been instructed to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible, save for the occasional press conference or public campaign-style appearance. In the absence of any real policy discussion from the Mayor, progressives are left to spin their wheels at the first sign of a “Ford gaffe”… thus proving Ford’s point that his critics are just snarky downtown whiners who won’t give the mayor a fair shake. If anything, I bet this minor gaffe will a) be forgotten by next week, and b) result in positive reactions among his supporters, if anything. “Hey, the guy made a tiny mistake. Stop picking on him! I do the same thing from time to time.”

    Admittedly, I know I’m a guy ho has spent a great deal of time online making fun of the mayor, but I feel like this stuff is just starting to play into Ford’s narrative a bit too conveniently. Let’s criticize the guy on policy, and in the absence of that, save our energy. Oh, and proposing some alternatives wouldn’t be a bad start either.