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courtesy Penguin Group Canada

Book review: Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story

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At first glance, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story is posed to incite two extremely divergent reactions from potential readers. For Toronto citizens entrenched as Ford Nation, the book will be dismissed as yet another attempt at mudslinging from a headline-hungry opportunist willing to do anything to make a name for herself.

For the rest of us, the Ford story promises an entertaining read about the crack-induced buffoonery of what was the best fodder for American late night talk show monologues in 2013.

The book, however, offers much more than comic relief or indiscriminate character assassination.

It is a story about one reporter’s stalwart investigation into the complicated personality of a man who is as split as the political views of his constituents. It is a tale of a political underdog’s rise to victory and his decline into corruption. It is a rags-to-riches story of the Ford family dynasty and how loyalty, ambition and addiction lead to the downfall of the leader of North America’s fifth largest city.

Robyn Doolittle, a Toronto Star City Hall bureau reporter has been following the escapades of the city’s mayor since before he was international news. She was one of three journalists who viewed a video in May 2013 of Ford smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. The Star refused to pay for the video with a $100,000 price tag but instead published what Doolittle had seen with her own eyes. Initially the validity of such a video was questioned, but in October 2013 Doolittle and the Star were vindicated when not only did Toronto Police Chief Bill Blaire confirm the existence of the video but Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack cocaine.

After being offered a Penguin Books deal, Doolittle compiled data collected from her four years of working the City Hall beat — including hundreds of interviews with family, friends, former employees, former classmates and political opponents of the Fords; thousands of pages of court documents; political debate transcripts; arrest paperwork; and countless news articles and radio and television broadcasts — to produce a manuscript in just three months.

Doolittle provides an astute analysis of how a city, divided by political interests — like lowered taxes for an overwhelming majority of suburbanites versus the inclusion of bike lanes by a minority of urban Torontonians — came to elect a man who has been quoted saying, “If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS probably.”

True to her profession, Doolittle makes every effort to offer a balanced view of the man who seems to be continually caught on camera doing things a mayor just shouldn’t be seen doing, such as ranting incoherently about killing someone or knocking over a city councillor while charging at someone in the peanut gallery as though he were on the football field.
Readers won’t help but appreciate Ford’s dedication to his constituents, his financial generosity and time commitment to at-risk youth football players and the success he had in bringing an end to excessive spending at City Hall. In spite of this, the story is ultimately about a tragic hero spiralling out of control under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The darkest side of this story is Ford’s involvement with the Dixon Blood gang, his acquaintance with a murdered youth and his close association with a man charged with extortion. This, unfortunately, is an aspect of the Ford story that is upstaged by Daily Show host John Stewart’s comedic quips and footage edited into viral songs.
All of this is already known by the devout followers of the Ford saga and, if anything, the book was written too soon as Ford’s outrageous behaviour continues to be a topic in the media.

Once all the details outlined in this unbelievable story have been parsed, Doolittle concludes that the possibility of a Ford re-election in October 2014 is highly likely. After reading Doolittle’s description of the current political landscape, the almost fanatical support of Ford Nation and the bullheaded tenacity of a man who has defied all the odds we could very well be facing “Ford more years.”

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