For Bonnie Luciano, working in a barbershop was like working in a newsroom.
The televisions were always tuned to CP24, Toronto's breaking news station, but once in a while, the American-turned-Canadian would switch over to CNN. Having grown up in Daytona Beach, Florida, she has to keep up with the news there as well.
Whether she was working solo at Town Square Barber in Don Mills Centre, or eventually helping run a family joint in Newmarket, Ont., Luciano, 37, always had customers come to the shop to get the latest news updates. She’s a 20-year veteran of the trade, but you’d never know it because her youth hasn’t escaped her. In those 20 years, she’d hear the latest gossip, one business-style trim at a time.
Most of her customers were mostly middle-aged bankers, real estate agents, and developers who worked in downtown Toronto. They didn’t like a brash brotherly team making waves at city hall. Luciano would listen to them whine about “these two guys from Etobicoke who didn’t belong.”
“What business do they have in downtown Toronto?” they’d say.
The brothers from Etobicoke were Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and current mayoral candidate Doug Ford. The constant gossip in late 2010 peaked Luciano’s interest, and what she calls the negative news stories surrounding them only helped to solidify her support. Now Luciano is a card-carrying member of Ford Nation. To her, it doesn’t matter that she’s doing it all from more than 60 km outside the voting district.
“I was slowly drawn in. Now, if I could vote 100 times, I would,” Luciano proudly claims.
Luciano is among the most active participants in Ford Nation, even from her home in Schomberg, Ont. She can’t vote in the upcoming election and she doesn’t care. She made a trip to the Doug Ford campaign office and came back home with a bunch of goodies: Flags, bumper stickers and pins. Luciano hasn’t lived in Toronto for a few years but still has a group of friends in the city. Whenever she speaks to them, she makes sure they know who to vote for. If she can’t vote for Doug Ford, she can convince others to do so.
And even when they’re in the wrong, Luciano still backs the Fords.
Everything that you’d expect a supporter to lose faith over has only strengthened hers.
Rob Ford and Doug Ford: Two Etobicoke guys who didn’t belong downtown. Her interest was caught.
Rob Ford: Overweight politician. She wondered why it would matter.
Rob Ford: A driver who reads and talks on his cellphone while driving. She thought it wasn’t fair.
By year four, the story became Rob Ford: Crack smoking and alcoholic mayor. Luciano thought more of a focus should be put on Ford’s record than his personal life. If she wasn’t going to stop supporting him now, nothing would break the ties that bind.
Luciano doesn’t think a person should be defined by their demons; they should be judged by their positive qualities. Rob Ford isn’t the crack-smoking mayor to her. He’s the mayor who cut city council’s spending, made TTC an essential service, contracted out garbage west of Yonge Street, and who will help bring subways to Scarborough.
“I smoke cigarettes, does that make me horrible?
“I am sickened when people use addiction to paint someone into a bad person. There are so many families out there that have dealt with addictions.”
That includes Luciano’s family. Her father and brother died of alcohol-related issues.
“The mayor seeking treatment is a step forward and should be seen as respectable. Had [my father and brother] done the same they may well still be here.”
Now with her own health waining, Luciano continues to find ways to keep up her support.
She hasn’t cut a head of hair for four months. Her hands can’t hold a pair of scissors steady anymore. Her body shakes with tremors that doctors say could be associated with early Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
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The 55-hour work weeks and the black-and-white dress code are gone. The days of Luciano scrubbing high-end shampoo into her customers’ hair, shaving them, and making sure not one strand was out of place are in the past. But she’s maintained the newsroom element at home.
Luciano spends five to six hours per day immersed in the news, and most of it is about the Fords.
“But that doesn’t mean I agree with the reporting,” Luciano laughs.
She believes that most of the news surrounding Toronto city hall’s tag-team is negative. Luciano spends hours reading news online and in print. More often than not, it riles her up to the point where she can’t stay quiet about it.
Luciano wrote an editorial that she feverently attempted to have published in Toronto’s main newspapers. “Why I support Doug and Rob Ford” was published in the Toronto Sun on Oct. 1 and features Luciano defending the Fords as stand-up politicians who return every call and deeply care for the city. Three days later, she had a similar piece published in the Toronto Star.
“I made it my mission that someone was going to publish something positive. I wasn’t finding it anywhere.”
Luciano also critiques the media in the “I Hate The War on Mayor Rob Ford” Facebook page, home to 4,217 rabid Ford supporters.
“If someone pokes you with a stick for a while, you’re going to pull that stick out of their hands. But you don’t see any nice Ford supporters in the crowd, waving their Ford Nation flags, you always want to pick the one out of the crowd who’s the wild card.”
Luciano didn't attend the first Ford Fest, but she did make the 60 km drive to attend the event in late September.
“It was the first time where I surrounded by people who feel what I feel.”
As she stood in line with her husband, she felt the celeboratory aura in the air. People were dancing to the music blaring from the speakers. Every once in a while, someone would begin shouting “Ford more years” and she’d join in. She was at home.
Luciano still manages to visit Toronto when health permits. Right now, her health is only serving as another tie to bind her to Rob Ford. While he’s in and out of hospitals for chemotherapy treatments, Luciano is having MRI scans on her brain and spine, and family doctor visits are becoming a norm. Rob Ford’s health took him out of the mayor’s office and Luciano’s took her out of the barbershop.
Rob Ford may be spending more time in hospitals than he is on the campaign trail but the latest polls have him earning a strong 59 per cent of the vote in Ward 2. Doug Ford at 33 per cent, six points behind John Tory in the mayoral race. One or both Fords could be booted out of city hall, but Luciano’s support would remain.
“I’d still be a part of Ford Nation. I think Rob’s going to get back on his feet. You could knock me over with a feather [if both Fords are voted out].”
(Photos courtesy Bonnie Luciano, Reuters)