NEW YORK — The first thing you notice about this city’s new mayor is that he is pretty tall — six-foot-five, according to official reports.
Oh, and he doesn’t smoke crack. Or drink while driving. Or get identified as an alleged heroin user in police documents. Or use gutter language to describe his wife. Or show up to work mid-afternoon, or not at all.
No, Bill de Blasio is on time, sober as a judge, and clearly in love with his wife (he says so, just after getting sworn in). He is posing for photographs with hundreds of New Yorkers who have waited in line for three hours, in sub-zero temperatures, to meet New York City’s just-inaugurated 109th mayor. Among them, two bemused Canadians.
Shaking his hand, I indicate the army of lobbyists, politicos and job-seekers queued up to meet him.
“We’re Canadians,” I tell de Blasio. “We’re the only people here who don’t want something from you!”
De Blasio and his staff laugh at that one. Not missing a beat, de Blasio says: “Canadians? From Ontario?” We nod.
“I love Ontario! What a beautiful place!” de Blasio booms, sounding like he means it. Then, he pauses.
“I won’t be talking about your mayor,” he says, and his staff burst into peals of laughter. We exchange a few more words, and then slink away, our humiliation complete. A New York Times reporter follows us, to ask questions about Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor … well, you know.
Be under no illusion, Canada: Rob Ford is now the most famous Canadian of all time. And you, like us, will be hearing about Mayor Crackhead — and mocked because of him — for many, many years to come.
More than Terry Fox. More than Celine Dion. More than William Shatner. More than just about any Canadian you care to mention — last year, this year, and in years to come. Rob Ford is the Canadian who non-Canadians know best.
Many, of course, are appalled by the tales of crack and the videotapes in which Ford talks about “killing” someone, or denigrates gays and minorities.
But, mostly, they think it is screamingly funny that (a) he exists and that (b) Canadians — these polite, taciturn, apologetic people of the North — elected such a schmuck in the first place. And that we are seemingly incapable of removing Ford from office. Or, worse, indifferent to him.
People from other places are used to public servants who, you know, serve the public. Not serial liars who are off doing hard drugs with gang-bangers when they are supposed to be at work.
Take de Blasio, for example. His entire adult life has been dedicated to public service, and to a determination to erase America’s yawning racial and income divide.
He achieved high office by pledging to bring people together. And by promising to make New York one city, not two — one increasingly rich, one increasingly poor.
Rob Ford, the millionaire’s son who drives a monster car that exceeds most Canadians’ annual income, could not be more unlike Bill de Blasio (or Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, or Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson). He is lazy, he is dishonest, he is an embarrassment. He divides, he doesn’t unite.
Toronto is New York run by the Swiss, the actor Peter Ustinov once famously said. If that is so, how can Toronto voters vote for Rob Ford — and New Yorkers elect Bill de Blasio?
It is an enduring mystery. Because he is a populist, some say. Because he tapped into suburban anger, others say. Because he ran a campaign that had one simple message, and not a hundred.
One thing, however, isn’t a mystery at all: Rob Ford is the most (in)famous Canadian ever.
And you will be hearing about him, and feeling embarrassed about him, for the rest of your natural life.