The RD Interview: Robyn Doolittle Talks Rob Ford

Urban affairs reporter Robyn Doolittle discusses the crack-smoking mayor and her new book, Crazy Town.

The RD Interview: Robyn Doolittle Talks Rob FordIllustration: Aimée van Drimmelen

Last May, you wrote an article for the Toronto Star describing a video you watched of mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. It kicked off a frenzy during a period when Montreal’s mayor was arrested and the Senate was embroiled in a scandal. Why is Ford the one making international headlines?

Imagine being a novelist who created the Rob Ford story. Your publisher would say, “That’s too unbelievable. Scale it back.” You have a fascinating character full of contradictions, plus allegations of prostitutes, drugs and lies, a murder, a gang raid, guns. It’s like The Wire.

The story continues to unfold. Why put out a book now?

There’s not a ton of room in news­paper articles, and the real story of Rob Ford involves stringing it all together from his time in high school up until now. Why is he the way he is? How did this flawed, flamboyant, bombastic personality get elected mayor of the fourth largest city in North America? My book looks back at how we got there and the whirlwind of the last two and a half years. It’s primarily a political biography. I’m hoping that when people are done reading, they’ll have a real understanding of what makes Rob Ford tick and the ambition that permeates his family.

Rob Ford and his brother Doug aside, you might be the most famous person in this story. How has your life changed?

It’s awkward. People always want to talk to you about it, and you can’t. One time I was getting my hair cut, and Doug Ford was on TV ranting about the media. A woman approached me and asked, “Are you the crack girl?” I was in my building one day, and a guy stopped me in the elevator and said, “I really appreciate what you’re doing.” Oh, and an overwhelming amount of hate mail.

Over the two years you’ve been covering the saga, what has been the most surreal moment?

Last November, Rob and his brother were screaming at the crowd after city council stripped the mayor of most of his powers. When he ran and knocked over councillor Pam McConnell, I thought, Wow, this is vintage Rob Ford. As a councillor, he spent 10 years fighting with everybody and losing his temper. He has really kept that in check during his mayoralty, and suddenly we were seeing Rob Ford circa 2003. The Ford brothers are declaring war. They seem to be doubling down on the crazy.

How many interview requests have you received since first reporting on the crack video?

Hundreds-an unbelievable amount. After we published the crack-video story, my Toronto Star colleague Kevin Donovan and I did well over 100. I can’t even use my email sometimes, because it clogs.

Have you accepted all the requests? 

No, I’m still trying to be a reporter. And at some point, I’m going to have to clean my house.

If Rob Ford is the biggest story you ever break, are you okay with this being your legacy?

It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime story, but I hope this isn’t it. I’m 29. That would be rather depressing.

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