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Trending that caught Doug's eye... Rob Ford

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has found himself the centre of many a controversy.

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has found himself the centre of many a controversy.

Toronto mayors

Pity poor Rob Ford.

Regardless of whether you believe he used illegal drugs, the embattled Toronto's mayor's name has become a global punchline.

From the Tonight Show with Jay Leno to Jon Stewart's Daily Show, the pugnacious Ford has been the target of late-night comedians and pundits over reports alleging a cellphone video shows him smoking what appears to be crack cocaine.

Even Mick Jagger took a potshot during the Rolling Stones concert in Toronto's Air Canada Centre. After promising not to do any "cheap" Ford jokes, Jagger snorted: "We're going to crack on with the show now."

But do the scandals that follow Ford like a lost puppy qualify him as Toronto's worst mayor ever? Famed urban studies expert Richard Florida seems to think so.

"My views on Ford's mayoralty are no secret," Florida wrote in a recent essay for the Globe and Mail. "I've called him the worst mayor in the modern history of cities, an avatar for all that is small-bore and destructive of the urban fabric, and the most anti-urban mayor ever to preside over a big city."

Harsh words, but we still think Ford could learn a few things about being a human train wreck from some other Hogtown mayors who made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Here are five of our favourites...

5

It would be hard not to start with the loquacious Mel Lastman, Toronto's mayor from 1998-2003. Forget calling in the troops to shovel snow; in June 2001, shortly before leaving for Mombasa, Kenya, to support Toronto's bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics, he jokingly said to a reporter "What the hell do I want to go to a place like Mombasa?... I'm sort of scared about going out there, but the wife is really nervous. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me." The remarks sparked a firestorm of controversy. What can Ford learn from this? One thing -- Lastman apologized.

4

When it comes to being a party animal, Ford pales in comparison to Allan "Lampy" Lamport, Toronto mayor from 1952-54. According to Toronto political historian Mark Maloney and a host of online reports, over the course of two years, Lamport spent about $40,000 (around $370,000 in today's dollars) on champagne, steaks, wine, cocktails, liqueurs, cigars and room service in Suite 1735 of the Royal York Hotel -- all unauthorized and billed to the city clerk. Now that's what we call a gravy train, Rob.

3

Whatever his indiscretions, you can say one thing about Ford -- at least he never shot a guy. It's a different story with John Powell, who was Toronto's fifth mayor from 1838-40. A key player in the Upper Canada Rebellion, Powell, a month before getting elected, shot and killed rebel Capt. John Anderson after pulling a hidden pistol from under his coat, an act that reportedly boosted his popularity. In an article for the Globe and Mail, Maloney noted Powell also took point-blank aim at the city's first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, but his gun jammed.

2

For hardcore political violence, you have to hand it to George Gurnett, Toronto's mayor in 1837 and from 1848-50. "George was involved with what they call a tar and feathering," historian and author Maloney told Toronto's CityNews.ca in 2010. "What you do is take someone and beat them up, beat them to a pulp, you roll them around on the ground in chicken feathers and then you pour molten hot tar, burning from a stove, all over their body."

Gurnett felt this was suitable punishment for a reform opposition candidate in 1828. It's since gone out of style.

1

In terms of brazen, bad mayoral behaviour, the crown likely goes to swaggering, two-fisted Sam McBride, Toronto's mayor from 1928-29 and in 1936. Wrote Maloney: "He was a real jock, a man's man, and if he didn't like you as a councillor he would just beat you up. Punch you out. And he used to take the council documents and he would wrap them up and bang them over the head of the councillors and he would pin them against the wall of the chambers... He was a heavy drinker, too."

So don't be too quick to judge Rob Ford, people. History proves being mayor of Toronto is pretty darn stressful. No wonder some of them crack up.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2013 D2

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