The other side of Rob Ford

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When then NDP leader Jack Layton died of cancer in August, 2011, one of the most genuine tributes to him came from someone who might surprise you. It was then Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

It is a model of how to respectfully remember someone whose political views you do not agree with.

You can find it here and judge for yourself. It lasts four minutes.

Ford is subdued, plain-spoken, clearly moved by Layton’s untimely death, shortly after he led the NDP to its best ever showing in the 2011 federal election.

“Today’s definitely one of the saddest days in Toronto, but not only in Toronto, but Canada,” Ford begins.

He explains that when he first arrived at Toronto City Hall as a political rookie, Layton “was my seatmate (on council), and he taught me a lot and I pass on my condolences to his family and, it’s a challenging day for everyone.”

Asked by a reporter to share his memories of working with Layton (and almost always opposing him), Ford replies: “He taught me never to take things personal. He taught me, you’re going to be surprised on who votes with you sometimes and who votes against you.

“He joked around and said, ‘you and I are probably never going to vote the same way,’” Ford recalls with a smile. “But you never could meet someone … you never saw … at least I didn’t, I never saw Jack yell or scream, he was always composed no matter how rough it was and it does, as you know, get pretty rough down in the (council) chamber and … he taught me a lot.”

Asked for his best memories of Layton, Ford responds, “his smile”.

Asked what made Layton a successful politician, Ford responds: “He was a people person … he never let the job go to his head, as some politicians are conceited and arrogant. He was not one of them. He was very, very humble … I just want to thank him for what he taught me.”

Asked for Layton’s biggest contribution to Toronto, Ford replies, “helping out, I think, the poor people. I think he really, you know, put a lot of money and wanted to put a lot of money obviously into the social services and the homeless programs … I think educating the average person. He was a very, very smart person. I know he wrote a lot of books, he was a professor, he taught, he was very, very articulate, very, very educated.”

Ford’s everyman tribute to Layton works because he’s not groping for nice things to say about Layton. He means them.

It works because Ford’s answers aren’t about Ford.

In describing Layton repeatedly as a mentor despite their political differences, Ford is elevating Layton, humbling himself.

Ford isn’t saying, “aren’t I a good person because I’m saying nice things about a political opponent?” — the smug tone of many “tributes” to Ford since his death last week. He’s saying Layton was a good person.

Granted this was early in Ford’s mayoralty, before the revelations of his crack smoking, drug and alcohol addictions, racist and homophobic remarks and unacceptable behaviour sent him into a downward spiral.

But there was more to Ford than just that.

True, he was never as good as the most complimentary media coverage of him. But equally, he was never as bad as the most savage.

Let him now rest in peace.