Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ford allegation plays big in U.S.

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TORONTO'S Rob Ford is a sensation south of the border thanks to reports of a videotape that appears to show him sucking on a crack pipe, a story with apparent parallels to the spectacular travails of Marion Barry, the crack-smoking former mayor of Washington, D.C.

Fox News, USA Today, The Associated Press and New York magazine were among the American media outlets carrying stories on the latest scandal to plague Ford after the U.S. website Gawker reported someone associated with Toronto's drug trade tried to sell the video to one of its reporters.

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To a throng of media assembled outside his office on Friday, Ford branded the allegations against him "ridiculous."

The seamy allegations sparked a gleeful social-media eruption among American journalists, celebrities and news junkies.

Several U.S. websites published lists of some of Ford's most outrageous public proclamations, with Slate.com even coming up with a quiz comparing some of the mayor's comments to those of Mayor Quimby on TV's The Simpsons. Quimby is a corrupt, dishonest buffoon on the long-running animated series.

Many commentators made comparisons to Barry, the notorious former mayor of D.C. who was videotaped smoking crack in January 1990 and quickly arrested by FBI officials on drug charges.

Barry, now a D.C. city councillor, served six months in a federal prison as his infamous proclamations while being arrested -- "Bitch set me up!" -- became fodder for gleeful late-night comics. "Bitch Set Me Up" T-shirts were hotly coveted souvenirs in the U.S. capital for years after Barry's arrest.

"Rob Ford is Canadian for Marion Barry," tweeted Jeff Passan, a baseball writer for Yahoo Sports.

"Just like Marion Barry, but with flannel!" tweeted a wag named Todd Bentley in New Jersey.

Even Barry himself weighed in on Ford.

"Unless he was entrapped by the government, it's not similar," Barry told the Washington City Paper, a D.C. news website.

Gawker's John Cook didn't buy the alleged crack video, but watched it and wrote a lengthy post about the attempts to peddle it to him and his own efforts to confirm the story.

The Toronto Star said it saw the video two weeks ago, and while it had no way to verify it, reported it appears to show the mayor sitting in a well-lit room, inhaling from what appears to be a glass crack pipe.

Ford is also allegedly heard making several disparaging and crude remarks about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and the high school football team he coaches.

Ford's lawyer, Dennis Morris, told the Star that it's impossible to determine what anyone's up to simply by viewing a videotape.

"How can you indicate what the person is actually doing or smoking?" Morris said.

In the case of Barry, his troubles didn't end his political career -- the D.C. politician was returned to the mayoralty in 1994, serving from 1995 to 1999.

But a movement called Stop Marion Barry, which says it's been "setting the record straight on Marion Barry's failed leadership since 2004," pointed to the allegations against Ford as further evidence of the former's D.C. mayor's sorry record.

"What a legacy. A big-city mayor caught smoking crack and everyone immediately thinks of (@)MarionBarryJr.," the group tweeted on Friday.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 A26

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