TORONTO (Reuters) - The withdrawal of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and the entry of his older brother in the race turned the spotlight from a volatile man who had admitted smoking crack cocaine to his less charismatic but steadier sibling, long seen as the power behind the throne.
Rob Ford, 45, hospitalized this week with an abdominal tumor, dropped his bid for re-election on Friday and his brother Doug, 49, took his place in the race to lead Canada’s largest city and financial capital.
Doug Ford, a first-time city councillor and businessman, has been the mayor’s most aggressive advocate, defender and sometimes critic. The elder Ford was also the mayor’s campaign manager.
“Did the real Mayor Ford just stand up?” tweeted Quito Maggi, a Toronto pollster and political consultant, after the family switch just minutes before a deadline for changes to the city election ballot.
“He comes with all the positives, the same track record as his brother, but not as much of the baggage and negatives,” Maggi added in an interview.
Doug Ford is slated to hold a press conference on Friday night.
Despite being a rookie councillor elected when his brother came to power in 2010, Doug Ford has been a major force in city politics, influencing policy and serving as the mayor’s spokesman. He has been at his brother’s side in a string of interviews since the crack cocaine scandal erupted in 2013.
And each twist in the mayor’s saga came with a subplot starring his brother.
In August, Doug Ford apologized to Toronto’s police chief who threatened him with a defamation lawsuit for accusing him of leaking information about Rob Ford’s drug use to the media.
The Globe and Mail newspaper published an investigation last year that cited anonymous sources who said Doug Ford was a mid-level hashish dealer in the 1980s, when he was in his late teens and early 20s, supplying a “select group” of street-level traffickers.
He denied the Globe’s allegations and told CNN last November that he may have sold the odd joint to a friend decades ago, but he was not a dealer. Before entering politics, Doug Ford ran the family packaging business.
Political observers said that while Doug Ford may not be as charismatic as his younger brother, he comes into the race with name recognition and with his stance well-known on big issues like transportation and taxes.
He was the driving force between a short-lived scheme to radically rethink Toronto’s waterfront redevelopment, replacing plans years in the making with a new football stadium, ferris wheel and monorail. However, the plan gained little traction.
Doug Ford also has less popular support than his brother, who has a longer history as a city councillor and in community work. Although Rob Ford dropped out of the mayoral race, he is now seeking a city council seat after his nephew stepped aside to allow him to run for the spot.
“If Doug Ford gets control of the reins, he’s going to be happy to hold on to them entirely to himself,” Peter Loewen, a University of Toronto politics professor, told CBC television.
In the final episode of the brothers’ talk radio show last year, the mayor admitted being “hammered,” or drunk, at a street festival, prompting Doug Ford to say it would never happen again because “there’ll be two hits - me hitting you, and you hitting the ground.”
Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp and Leah Schnurr; Editing by Amran Abocar and Diane Craft