A lot of people have written about Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto who passed away yesterday.
Because there is a respected tradition of saying nothing but good things about those who have recently passed on, many people have eulogized Ford while glossing over his poor record as a mayor and his chaotic and destructive personal life. Ford admitted to driving while drinking, was caught driving while distracted, bought illicit drugs from gang members and convicted criminals, and allegedly assaulted his wife. He was often rude and insulting to strangers, and generally behaved as if the rules of life did not apply to him.
As mayor, he ripped up a perfectly serviceable transit plan and insisted on expensive and less useful subways, thus costing the city millions of dollars and years of development time. If city council had not overruled him, he and his brother would have slashed services, thus increasing the amount of misery and suffering in the city, and would have ruined the waterfront by putting up a glitzy development in the port lands (including a Ferris wheel!). It will take years for the city to completely recover from his stewardship, if it ever does.
Despite all of this, I have a sense that Ford’s life was a tragedy, in the classical sense. While he was born into wealth and privilege, he was born into a family environment that made it difficult, if not impossible, for him to develop his best qualities. He suffered much during his life, and died too young and in pain. No one, not even Rob Ford, deserves that.
And there are thousands of Torontonians who are grateful to Ford for paying personal attention to their problems. He was legendary for returning constituent calls. He was a horrible mayor, and not a very good councillor – he consistently advocated spending cuts that harmed the people who voted for him – but he would have been a very good ombudsman.
It is sadly true that the city is better off without him. But he made life interesting in Toronto, to say the least. There will never be anybody like him again.