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Doug Ford once branded himself Toronto’s ‘co-mayor.’ What did he and brother Rob accomplish at City Hall?

Doug Ford once branded himself Toronto’s ‘co-mayor.’ What did he and brother Rob accomplish at City Hall?
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Well into Rob Ford’s tumultuous reign as mayor of Toronto, he and his staff had an unusual problem: Rob’s brother, Doug.

Seeing himself more as co-mayor than the first-term city councillor that he was, Doug Ford would ensconce himself in the chief magistrate’s office when his brother was out and hold official meetings, recalled Mark Towhey, the late mayor’s former chief of staff.

“Rob was livid about this,” Towhey wrote in his 2015 book on the Ford saga, Uncontrollable.

“Rob’s (executive assistant) would physically try to bar Doug from entering the mayor’s office. But Doug would barge right past him. We started locking the door. Then Doug got a key. From Rob. Who would then complain when Doug used it. It was nuts.”

Toronto mayor Rob Ford, right, and councillor Doug Ford wait to speak at a press conference at City Hall Monday morning, November 26, 2012.

The episode underscored the politician-brothers’ unorthodox relationship — and Doug’s integral part in the 2010-2014 Ford administration at Toronto City Hall, now among the foremost credentials he cites in his bid to become Ontario’s next premier as leader of the Progressive Conservatives.

While the Ford years are often recalled as a chaotic time for Toronto politics, during which Rob was filmed smoking crack and council all but stripped away his powers, the mayor and his cohorts did achieve much of their fiscally conservative agenda.

“Rob’s mayoralty was an unprecedented success, despite the scandals,” Doug asserts in his own book, . “The city of Toronto took significant strides forward and got to a place where it was working more efficiently than ever before.”

Yet he cut a controversial figure in those four years, angrily defending his brother against the drug allegations, lashing out at opponents and taking a less-than-studious approach to his council duties, suggest former colleagues and written accounts of the period. And it remains a matter of debate how much credit he can take for the mayor’s accomplishments.

Doug Ford and brother Rob listen to a city hall debate.

“I don’t recall Doug Ford getting up at city council to move motions, to serve the community or help the city,” said Josh Matlow, a centre-left councillor who regularly butted heads with the Fords. “He would get up and rant … What he was prepared with was really effective slogans and sound bites.”

Ford’s frequent claim that he and his brother “saved” $1 billion over the four years is also a source of dispute.

But one of the brothers’ key allies on council, Giorgio Mammoliti, said Doug was a “vital” part of a team that righted the city’s finances, all the while learning lessons that will serve him well in provincial politics.

When Rob Ford entered rehab for his addiction problems, Doug “indirectly took the leadership of the city,” he added, though another councillor actually served as interim mayor.

“He was a leader when he needed to be, he was a scrapper when he needed to be,” said Mammoliti. “Doug’s first entry to politics was being a councillor and he got trained by the best. Toronto, as far as I’m concerned, is the 11th province in Canada.”

He would get up and rant … What he was prepared with was really effective slogans and sound bites

The Fords’ memorable rule at city hall began when Rob won the 2010 mayoral election after a decade on council, buoyed by a constituency that would become known as Ford Nation. The largely suburban alliance of voters prized the new mayor’s common-man approach and devotion to smaller government.

Doug, meanwhile, was elected and captured Rob’s former council seat. Towhey said the older brother had hoped to become deputy mayor, but reluctantly gave up that ambition when staff explained they needed to use the post as an enticement to get other councillors onside.

Rob Ford did attract followers and, before the crack scandal came to overshadow his tenure, racked up a string of wins. High among them was eliminating a vehicle-registration tax brought in by the previous administration. The mayor also convinced council to ask the province to make the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service, staving off potentially crippling strikes. Garbage service, recently beset by a lengthy work stoppage, was contracted out to private operators in the west half of the city. The savings enabled the mayor to freeze property taxes in his first budget.

And the mayor’s “crowning moment,” according to Towhey, came when the city negotiated limits on a job-security clause in union contracts that had given many employees so-called jobs for life.

Mark Towhey, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s chief of staff, leaves city hall after leaving his post on Thursday, May 23, 2013.

But Matlow, for one, believes Rob’s brother deserves little of the glory for all that.

“There is no evidence that Doug Ford had any influence over any of those things happening,” said the councillor, who backed the garbage outsourcing but opposed many other Ford initiatives.

Mammoliti disagrees, saying Doug was a key part of the team and assumed leadership of it as his brother was sidelined by the drug and alcohol controversy.

“He was definitely overwhelmed with the situation of his brother, and the woes he was going through, and trying to get an agenda through he really believed in,” said Mammoliti.

But getting an agenda through the 44-person council — where even the mayor has just one vote — requires some political finesse, and on that count Doug Ford earns mixed reviews.

Etobicoke North councillor Doug Ford and brother of mayor Rob Ford poses for a portrait in Toronto, Ontario, Thursday, September 1, 2011.

John Filion, another councillor who often opposed the Ford agenda, said Doug has “tremendous people skills” and great charm, able to debate vigorously one moment and kibitz genially the next. He even participated in lengthy interviews for Filion’s own book about the Ford years.

“I was just continually amazed about how candid he was,” said Filion.

Yet Doug often dove into issues with little foreknowledge, said the councillor, citing a committee meeting where Ford attacked a proposal of his, then admitted he hadn’t read the staff report on the issue.

Matlow recalled debating with Doug about the subway extension his brother wanted in suburban Scarborough, a more expensive option than the above-ground, light-rail alternative. Ford insisted to him the subway could be privately financed, and that a Middle Eastern sheikh was willing to invest in it, said Matlow.

The Fords won the subway debate, but the project is being publicly funded, aided by a special new tax. No Arab tycoon ever surfaced.

Ford admitted in his book that his first two years on council were more of a learning curve “than I’d ever imagined.” To make change, councillors have to do “a lot of ass-kissing” with colleagues, he complained, who could then unexpectedly drop the support they had promised.

I was just continually amazed about how candid he was

“Having some left-wing ideas is one thing, but I think these councillors were obsessed with protecting union leadership and spending public money,” Ford wrote about Matlow and other erstwhile foes. “I could only shake my head in disbelief — we were trusting these people to be leaders?”

Still, he managed repeatedly to get in hot water on his own.

There was a clash with novelist Margaret Atwood over his views on libraries, intemperate remarks about a home for autistic youth and a widely panned scheme for redeveloping Toronto’s waterfront.

Ford also feuded with Bill Blair, then Toronto police chief, after Blair revealed police had a copy of the video showing Rob smoking crack, and said he was “disappointed” by the footage.

Mammoliti, though, dismisses the controversy around the Fords as largely the product of obstructionism by left-leaning councilors opposed to their small-government agenda. He said voters love the family, and he expects great things from Doug in provincial politics.

“I think it’s DNA, it’s in their blood and they’re all leaders in their own way.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford with his brother Doug Ford on Monday November 18, 2013.

Towhey was left with a less rosy picture. In 2013, Rob Ford fired him as his chief of staff after the advisor had urged the mayor to enter rehab. Towhey admits that he and Doug never really got along, but says he spent a good part of his job dealing with Doug’s insistence on being a sort of informal mayor.

He cited an official trip to Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel had asked that just the two leaders and a few staff people take part in their meeting. Doug still insisted on being included, and only exited the conference venue when one of Emmanuel’s aides told him to leave, Towhey said.

“Doug liked the sizzle at least as much as the steak, maybe even more,” Towhey wrote of the brother’s city-hall tenure. “And Rob, who doesn’t like the limelight, was fine letting Doug bask in it for him. But the truth is, Rob never saw Doug as his co-mayor.”

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