Opponents change tack as Rob Ford maintains status quo

LGBT protesters target Rob Ford after his efforts to remove a rainbow flag from outside Toronto City Hall.

The more things change in Rob Ford's universe, the more things stay the same.

Facing a lawsuit that alleges he ordered a jail-house beating, reports of an after-hours boozefest at a Vancouver pub and now seemingly losing former allies to a potential mayoral candidate, Toronto's mayor still managed to find a chance to go clubbing.

Ford was spotted out at a downtown nightclub on Wednesday, being photographed by young patrons and later handing out campaign t-shirts near his car.

CTV News captured Ford on video with his security guard, his brother Doug Ford and his friend and former employee David Price. Ford was reportedly out celebrating the birthday of an old friend. There was no indication he was drinking.

Still, the night of "clubbing and campaigning" is old hat for Ford, who has been heavily scrutinized for a series of unfortunate incidents in which he appeared inebriated in public.

It also comes as various opponents – both mayoral and moral – rally, prepare and change tack.

[ Related: Rob Ford must go, say protesters camped out at mayor's office ]

Conservative John Tory appears more likely than ever to run against Ford in the October mayoral election and has reportedly gathered a "big tent" of supporters that includes the brain trust behind Ford's 2010 victory.

The National Post reports that campaign manager Nick Kouvalis has committed to Tory's campaign, should he be convinced to run for mayor. Kouvalis would bring along much of Ford's former campaign team, including analytics wizard Mitch Wexler. Case Ootes, part of Ford's transition team, is also ready to back Tory, according to the Post.

A Tory campaign is perceived as a significant hurdle for Ford to jump on his way to re-election. The Ford family has twice supported Tory campaigns and now former allies seem to view him as a more stable conservative option.

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Even those protesting various Ford controversies appear to be adapting their strategies. Ford has been the target of scores of protests during his time as mayor and, regardless the issue or the impetus, they all had one focus: Be large enough that even Ford can't ignore the issue.

A new protest, however, has a new focus. Not size, but constancy.

The Rob Ford Must Go campaign is looking to make not the largest splash, but perhaps the longest one, vowing to maintain a presence in the area outside Ford's office until he agrees to leave office.

"To have a constant, rotating shift of citizens present in front of his office, all day, every day, demonstrating through their peaceful presence that we are not a city that accepts Rob Ford's behaviour and that we will not rest until he is no longer in office," the campaign's website explains.

Organizer Chris Caple began the protest at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and was joined by a handful of other demonstrators. The second-day of protest began at about 9 a.m. on Thursday.

Already, the protest appears to have captured some unwelcome attention. According to the campaign's Twitter account, the demonstrators were told they couldn’t hold signs and were warned they would have to leave at 4:30 p.m.

The Toronto Sun's Don Peat confirmed with the city that protesters are, in fact, allowed to display appropriate signs at city hall. And security appeared to back down from their threat of expulsion after Coun. Josh Matlow intervened.

The Rob Ford Must Go campaign launched in protest to Ford's vocal opposition to Pride parade and threats to take down a rainbow flag at city hall – moves derided by some as designed to drum up socially conservative support ahead of the next election.

"Up until now, Ford has been primarily hurting himself. Yes, he's greatly damaged the reputation of this city; yes, he's drawn the office of the mayor into disgrace. Yes, he should have resigned many months ago," the campaign website states.

"But now? - now, with his open repudiation of the Pride parade and his repeated attempts to have the ceremonial Pride flag taken down at City Hall, he's shifted into a new, even more dangerous mode - one of actively, deliberately seeking to hurt others. In order to score cheap political points with the basest elements of his base of supporters.

"By his comments and behaviour, Ford is harming the LGBT community in Toronto specifically and the greater city generally, emboldening bigots, and making this city meaner, smaller, colder, and less welcoming."

The more things change in Camp Ford, the more they stay the same. But while Ford is clubbing, opponents are rallying.

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