It’s been a while since the Toronto mayoral race had a scandal, don’t you think, dear reader?
The last one toppled Adam Giambrone, reducing Jammers to a sobbing wreck as he was delivering his stepping-down speech. To be honest, we all kinda saw that one coming, didn’t we? Young guy, in politics since he was in diapers; he was overdue for a political misstep. According to the Toronto’s Sexiest Councillor poll (you haven’t voted yet?), he gives most of the councillors a run for their money, and even I’ll grudgingly concede that he’s a fairly good-looking guy, so the fact that it was a sex scandal that took him out (the standard had sex with another woman kind), really didn’t come as a surprise.
The latest one involving Rob Ford, however, was a bit of a surprise. To say it came out of left field would be a bit of an understatement.
Seems Rob got himself tangled up with a Dieter Doneit-Henderson (first name pronounced “Deeter”, second like “doughnut”), a gay guy with Fibromyalgia living somewhere on the west end of the city. From what I could glean; just outside of Rob’s electoral district anyway.
A little while ago Rob made a few remarks about mostly gay people and IV drug users getting AIDS. He said he was speaking statistically and although I believe he didn’t mean any harm by it, as a politician and a public figure, it just wasn’t a great move. So Mr. Ford contacted Dieter (or was it the other way around?), to try to mend the fences with the LGBT community. Of course, the remark resurfaced again during the campaign but it didn’t get much traction after Rob’s olive branch manoeuvre.
For a while, all was quiet on the Ford front until last week when Dieter released a recording of a conversation he’d had with Rob. Here’s an excerpt (followed by a response from Doug Ford, Rob’s brother and campaign manager):
In the conversation, Mr. Doneit-Henderson asks Rob to procure OxyContin for him for his Fibromyalgia. In case you’re not familiar with it, OxyContin is a strictly controlled opioid painkiller, similar in effect (and addictive qualities) to Heroin but not as strong, in pill form, and legal (with a prescription). Rob, however, doesn’t seem to know what the drug is, let alone where to get it, but promises to try to help Dieter one way or another. In typical Ford fashion (at least based on past fumbles), he suggests that Dieter try to get it on the street and that he’ll try to talk to his own family doctor to see what can be done. Rob also makes a few references to dealers, piling gaffe upon gaffe.
Thing is, no one would even have known about this had it not been for Dieter recording the phone conversation (without telling Rob), and three weeks later releasing it to the media. Correction, shopping it around to the media — only two media outlets decided to pick it up.
Mr. Doneit-Henderson defends his actions by saying, essentially, that he had been jilted by someone who he thought was a friend and that he had received menacing phone calls from Rob’s office telling him to never call Mr. Ford again. Unfortunately, that part has not been substantiated and, from all accounts, no one from Mr. Ford’s office called Dieter.
The story came out in a rather sloppy fashion with suggestions that Rob offered to buy Dieter the drugs on the streets (this was never mentioned in the conversation), and Mr. Ford countered with a similarly sloppy rebuttal stating that Dieter had come after him and his family stating in the phone call that Dieter was standing on his front lawn and making other veiled threats (also something I have not heard mentioned in the recording or subsequent transcripts).
So that’s the scandal, pretty much in its entirety.
By pure coincidence I happened to run into Rob near Yonge-Dundas Square on Friday night where I got to talk to him and Doug. They were having a chat with some guy who was complaining about a pricing problem at the nearby Canadian Tire store.
Here’s where I became convinced that Rob, as he had stated, was simply trying to help out. In much the same fashion as he had offered help to Dieter, he gave the Canadian Tire guy his business card and told him he would do what he could to try to help out. Unless the interaction was staged for my benefit, here was Rob being Rob (potentially setting himself up for more problems), doing what he said he does.
While I was waiting to shake hands with Mr. Ford (I’d like to shake hands with all the candidates), his campaign manager said that his office had received 19 letters of support from people around Toronto, one of them coming from Sarah Thomson, another mayoral candidate who had apparently also had dealings with Dieter. I emailed Ms. Thomson’s campaign manager as soon as I got home to try to verify this information but, unfortunately, didn’t receive a reply. So, although I can’t verify whether or not this actually happened, this is what I was told and, given Dieter’s rampaging political involvement, wouldn’t be surprising.
Rob was still adamant that Dieter had threatened him and his family, but I’m not convinced of this. At least, I haven’t heard or read anything to that effect. In any event, Mr. Doneit-Henderson’s excuse for recording a private conversation is super weak and given his less-than-pleasant attitude towards most people with whom he disagrees, this whole affair comes across as personal retribution against someone who wouldn’t help him get drugs. As harsh as that may sound, that’s the impression I’m left with. I mean, just look at the photo that Dieter stuck on one of his Posterous posts:
(Original image was removed — please see below *)
That’s well beyond bad taste, wouldn’t you agree?
So do I think Rob needs to maybe take a few lessons on public speaking? Yup. Do I think his comments regarding getting drugs on the street were inappropriate? Yeah. Do I think he sometimes speaks before he thinks? Sure. If this is what would make him a poor mayor then yeah, that’s a fair and demonstrable argument.
But do I think that Rob Ford’s heart was in the right place? Based on my own experience, yes. Do I think he was set up? I have very little doubt that he was. And do I think Dieter is a whiny brat with too much time on his hands and nasty, spiteful attitude? Most certainly yes.
My money’s still on George Smitherman to win the mayoral race although his media silence of late has made that much less certain. I like Rob Ford as a person but his vision seems to be too myopic and limited; little cuts and little changes where massive action is required. I’m now on the fence about who the best candidate for the city is, but even though I’m not a Ford backer, I will say that this “scandal” is nothing short of bullshit. He may not be the most diplomatic personality in the race, but I genuinely believe Rob Ford is trying to help Torontonians. If he’s guilty of anything, it’s of trying to be a little too helpful.
And in the meantime I hope that Dieter crawls back under whatever rock he crawled out from under and starts praying that he’s not sued for slander, libel, defamation, and all the other nasty insinuations he’s been making. Then there’s the issue of recording phone calls without telling the person on the other end that he was doing so — just slimy.
* The image that originally appeared above was removed at the request of Rob’s campaign office. It was one of Rob’s standard council photos (I’m sure you can find another one around here somewhere), but with a less-than-pleasant caption beneath it. I don’t typically update content after the fact but what was written there justifies its removal. That’s Rob face on there and some very unkind words beneath it, so I figure he has the right to ask me to remove it. After all, my intention wasn’t to insult Rob or to perpetuate Dieter’s insult either. And unless Dieter can prove the caption in a court of law, what he said is actually libelous (as in, untrue). Beyond even that, really, not a nice thing to say about a person who tried to help him, even if he had had a falling out of some sorts. The offending image may still be available on Dieter’s Posterous blog but, to be honest, I hope it soon isn’t. (updated June 23, 2010)