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Ford to dodge debate at The 519

Keeping his distance from gay community in days leading up to election

Rob Ford Credit: File photo

Rob Ford will be noticeably absent at Monday night’s mayoral debate at the 519 Church Street Community Centre because, he says, he’s bound by previous commitments.

What exactly those commitments are, we can only speculate. His website’s event calendar shows him curiously wide open that day.

“It’s a scheduling conflict,” he told Xtra. “Anyone can ask me questions anytime. They can call me. I return all my calls.”

Actually, I tried all week to get an interview — however short — with Ford. Not one call was returned. I called, emailed and left voicemail messages a couple times, but the voice mailbox of Adrienne Batra, director of communications for Ford’s campaign, was full.

And, as a side note, Ford is the only frontrunner in the mayoral race who didn’t accept Xtra’s invitation to come into the newsroom for an editorial board sit-down.

So, I went to him.

First I tracked him down Wednesday night, all the way up in the Jane and Finch area. He was at a mayoral debate hosted by the Canadian-Jamaican Centre at 995 Arrow Rd.

I travelled 45 minutes north of the downtown, braved the pouring rain, a delayed bus and a soggy walk along Finch Ave.

When Ford arrived, about 45 minutes late, the other candidates had already started the debate without him and a scrum of reporters and television crews were waiting at the front doors to catch his grand entrance.

No time to talk, I was told. Determined, I waited until the end of the debate.

When I asked how he plans to mend relationships with the gay community, Ford shook his head, crumpled up his brow and looked dumbfounded at the question.

“I’ve never had any problem with the gay community,” he said. “No problems. I treat everyone the same, no matter what your sexual preference is. Taxpayer’s money is taxpayer’s money. I never had a problem with anyone. I watch out for taxpayers, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do, and always will do.”

Before I could ask another question, Ford was whisked away to speak to audience members, “real taxpayers,” a member of his team said.

Feeling somewhat unsatisfied with his answer, and still unable to reach him on the phone, I again ventured out to get him on the record the next day, at another evening event on Thursday. This time: Stand Up for Change with Rob Ford, described as a night of comedy for his supporters at the Hilton Hotel on Richmond St.

Once again, Ford was late to arrive. I’m sensing a pattern.

Once I made sure the escalator is the only entrance to the event space downstairs, I perched myself at the top and waited, keeping an eye on both entrances.

Recognizing me from the Canadian-Jamaican Centre on Wednesday, Ford’s director of policy Mark Towhey was quick to remind Xtra of its place among Toronto’s media.

“You have no credibility. Not you personally, your paper,” he said. “You’ve never written anything that’s true. Journalism starts with facts.”

Ford’s imminent arrival triggered a buzz among the members of Team Ford, especially Batra, who said I could have “a couple minutes.”

I asked Ford if he had ever attended a Pride parade.

“This year we donated a lot of materials, and we had a whole team down there this year,” he said.

But were you there personally?

“No, I was up north. I was with my family up north, but we did support it. We have been doing it for 20 years. We have a cottage in Huntsville.”

Oh. Well, what about Pride funding. Will the event continue to be funded?

“I think we need a level playing field,” said Ford. “I think either we fund all the parades or we fund none of them. Right now, we fund Pride and Caribana, but the others, like the St Patrick’s Day parade and Santa Claus parade, doesn’t get any funding. So I think we should fund all or none.”

Well, since the city can’t afford to fund every parade, does that mean funding will be pulled if you’re elected mayor?

“I think we need to get the private sector involved. We can’t afford to start funding all of them. So we should find a fair and balanced approach.”

So would you pull funding?

“I’m going to review everything, review all the funding and see what’s fair for everybody.”

Before I could sneak in any more questions, Batra quickly moved him to another waiting reporter from Newstalk 1010.

Then, just before pushing through the glass doors to leave the Hilton, Towhey mutters to me, “Prove me wrong.”

I think all my facts are in order.