(Idil Burale is an organizer, social commentator, and political blogger who lives in Ward 1, Etobicoke North. The following is a post from her blog, A different persepctive.)
There is this false assumption that downtowners have about suburbanites in Toronto: those who voted for Rob Ford must be political illiterates, i.e. they do not follow the news, and are therefore susceptible to his lies. I was once invited to a meeting — organized by Junction Hipsters — that plotted ways to ‘educate’ residents in Ford Nation territory so that they didn’t make the same mistake twice. This is, of course, all amusing to me as a long time resident of Etobicoke and a progressive suburbanite.
I didn’t vote for Rob Ford. I also didn’t vote against Rob Ford. I didn’t vote because I was out of the country during that election. But had I the chance to vote, I’m not so sure I would have voted against him.
I get why Rob Ford is so popular in my neck of the woods. He is, in many ways, the counterculture version of our former mayor. While David Miller represented everything that is a downtown elitist, a yuppie, professional, fancy degree holder snob, Rob Ford came across as the opposite, a humble, blue-collar guy who drove a van and drank coffee from Tim Horton’s. But more importantly, he came from the suburbs and downtowners often underestimate how important location is, in a post-amalgamated city.
George Lakoff, an American professor of cognitive science and linguistics at UC Berkeley, noted in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant! that people often vote for who they identify with, even if it goes against their own self-interest. Rob Ford, the candidate, stood out as the anti-elitist proponent who could champion the cause of a forgotten demographic of post-amalgamation Toronto. For instance, it was assumed that someone who doesn’t live along the subway lines might recognize the importance of transit, that someone who doesn’t live or work downtown would understand the entrenched sense of alienation that resulted from amalgamation; also, with 46% of overweight Torontonians living in the suburbs, someone who looks like us would be a welcome change.
A straight-talker who doesn’t sugar coat anything and is brave enough to go unscripted and speak his mind, in a political world drowning in sound bites, Rob Ford’s success was good news for any layperson who ever aspired to run for office. In a world where politicians behave more like celebrities than representatives, Rob Ford stood out as the grassroots leader who lowered the barriers to participation by making himself accessible directly by phone. He supposedly returned over 200,000 calls in the 10 years he spent as councillor. I had some mothers tell me that they liked Rob Ford simply because he helped them find their kids summer jobs. In other words, he was an exceptional councillor.
Now I don’t know what happened to his chutzpah when he transitioned from councillor to mayor, but his supporters still have faith in him. In many ways, the media’s one-sided criticism of Rob Ford (or as he would call it: witch hunt) aided in his self-portrayal as political martyr and reinforced his us vs. them framework. All of a sudden, to insult Rob Ford was to insult suburbanites and opposition to his subway plan was to disrespect the taxpayers of Scarborough.
This is why Rob Ford is still a political contender. Personally, I think Rob Ford is an idealist who is misunderstood. He is not sophisticated or strategic, but then again, that is what most people find refreshing in his style of leadership. With that said, I don’t think Rob Ford ever aspired to be the mayor of this city. This is evident in the kind of answers he gives whenever asked what he likes most about Toronto. I would even go so far as to suggest that his family may have pressured him into running for the mayoralty. All I know is that Rob Ford is much, much happier being a football coach than he is at being a mayor.
– submitted by Idil Burale