Toronto Mayor Rob Ford put a dent in his reputation by snubbing the city’s gay community when he declined to make an appearance at the launch of Pride Week activities. He has had pretty high approval ratings until now. What can he do to minimize reputational damage from this gaffe?
“It seemed a political gimme: Walk a few short steps from his city hall office, say a few kind words about the country’s biggest gay pride festival and swiftly neutralize growing resentment over his seeming disregard for Toronto’s gay community.”
Instead he took, if not an adversarial position then certainly a cavalier one.
“We’ll take it one day at a time,” the Mayor said, when asked if he would attend any Pride Week events,” he said. “I’m very busy.”
It’s hard to imagine why Mayor Ford painted himself into this corner. Perhaps he has made a political decision that the gay community is not important, or that by appearing to reject the gay community he will score points with homophobe voters. As a political decision, that seems foolish. As a human decision, it seems reprehensible.
Nevertheless, he is where he is. He has created a politically hot issue. Maybe it’s now a no-win issue. If he shows up now he will likely face a strongly negative reaction. Is there anything he can do to recover from this reputational damage?
The communication professionals at Ketchum Public Relations Canada weighed a few different options.
A. The “Mea Culpa” Option
Come out and say: “I made a mistake. This is a very important event and time for the city of Toronto, and as Mayor of all the people of Toronto I support it, and I will be there to show my support.”
This is his best option, but based on past performance it is his least likely course of action.
B. The Counter-Attack Option
Using this approach, he could try to turn back the criticism with an attack, issuing a statement to the effect:
“I act as mayor for all Torontonians, including gay and lesbian Torontonians, every minute of every day. That is the proof of the pudding. That’s what matters. Allowing myself to be bullied into something that is purely a photo opportunity, that only serves political purposes, is disingenuous. It’s the old politics that I promised Torontonians I wouldn’t engage in when I ran for this office and was elected.”
C. The Under-The-Radar Option
Show up at a few events without making a big deal of it. If he must miss the parade on the weekend, he might soften the blow by acknowledging the fact that Toronto is a diverse city with a number of inclusive events throughout the summer and although he won’t be able to attend the Pride Parade, he’s looking forward to attending…..Cultura, Jambana, Taste of the Danforth, the Slut Walk etc.
D. The Screw-You Option
In this scenario, the Mayor goes about his business as usual, trusting that time and public attention will move on. This is quite often an effective strategy in politics, sometimes made all the more effective when other news events take over the spotlight. It appears to be the strategy that various government officials used with regard to the behaviour of some police officers during the G20.
Whatever he chooses to do, or not to do, this could determine whether Mayor Ford goes down in history as “Teflon Rob,” or the guy who put his foot in it and never recovered.