Toronto: "Crackhead Mayor" Rob Ford's Possible Presence Making Regulars Nervous

Rob Ford

Fresh out of rehab, the city's racial- and homophobic-slur-spewing leader is invited to the festivities — and is a hot mess

This story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Toronto Film Festival isn't used to sharing the spotlight in September. But as the world's media descends on Toronto, North America's biggest film event might find itself fighting for top billing with the city's notorious crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford.

Ford (mainly) has been keeping out of trouble and out of the headlines these past few months. But to the horror of many in the city — and the delight of tabloid journalists and late-night comedians everywhere — the mayor is back to resume campaigning (the election is Oct. 27) after a two-month stint at GreeneStone, a clinic in northern Ontario. That is making some in Toronto, and at the festival, very nervous. In cable TV terms, the festival is Masterpiece Theatre: all prestige and high-end class. Ford — who has admitted to smoking crack, hangs out with prostitutes and known gang members and has been known to swear and discuss oral sex in news conferences — is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: Canadian Edition.

"The last thing anyone wants is to see the fat red face of Mayor Ford on the red carpet," says one festival regular and prominent Torontonian. "Everyone will be seeing TIFF and thinking 'crackhead mayor.' "

Says Dalton Higgins, a Toronto-based pop culture critic and author: "I'll admit that seeing our mayor as the butt of jokes on TV is totally rad from a comedic standpoint. But it makes our city appear to the world as incredibly politically immature."

Aside from his reality-TV-star persona, Ford has politics that are antithetical to the festival's cosmopolitan image. The mayor has boycotted gay pride events in Toronto, been caught on video spouting apparently racist and homophobic slurs and advocated slashing city funding for the arts, including money for the fest. In fact, Ford's whole political strategy has been to pit conservative voters in the city's suburbs against the supposedly liberal downtown core.

There is evidence that too much Rob Ford already is hurting Toronto's international image. At the height of Ford's scandals in 2013, Canadian analytics group Cormex Research found that the mayor and his troubles accounted for nearly half of all coverage of Toronto on U.S. news networks.

A Toronto festival spokesperson was careful to avoid mentioning Ford by name but confirmed to THR that the mayor was on the guest list: "We invite high-level guests from all levels of government to attend the festival … and this year is no different."

And most Torontonians, whether members of "Ford Nation" or virulent opponents, want to see their mayor at the festival. "We elected the guy — he should be there right on the red carpet, and we can take our lumps," says Brett McCaig, co-writer of Rob Ford the Musical: Birth of a Ford Nation, a Book of Mormon-style show based on the mayor's career. Love him or hate him, says McCaig, Ford is a compelling celebrity, "sort of Bill O'Reilly meets Chris Farley," and now indelibly linked to Canada's largest city.

The mayor's office declined comment.