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Zelda goes to rehab

Zelda says everyone has now heard of Rob Ford, right?

He’s the evidently foul mouthed, hard drinking, crack smoking mayor of Toronto...

The spectacle of his monumental car crash of a political career, from the emergence of a video catching him smoking drugs to yet another video capturing him hammered with drink and threatening to kill some unnamed enemy, to a more recent uncompromising outburst regarding where he preferred to engage in oral sex. 

All have become fodder for international astonishment as people ask the question, “and he’s STILL in his job?”

We have no lack of examples of similar career and life-crashing incidents nearer home.

Addiction is an endemic problem which does not differentiate between intelligent and dumb, rich and poor.

Paul Flowers, a Methodist minister and former chairman of the struggling Co-operative Bank - who last weekend was revealed to have been using a range of serious, illegal drugs - shows how extensive substance abuse is. 

I’ve met any number of chief executives who have made those black tie business dinners flow more smoothly with the help of some Columbian marching powder, their noses streaming, their limbs twitching and talking at 100 miles an hour. Let alone the rest of them who get blootered on the free - and legal - alcohol.

In politics, those who have struggled with their demons are easier to spot. I was at Prestonfield House the night Lord Watson of Invergowrie set fire to the curtains when he was refused drink at the bar. 

I recall seeing Charles Kennedy, then leader of the Lib Dems, give an entirely terse and underwhelming speech to a business audience. I had been looking forward to what the charismatic leader might have to say, but in retrospect his delivery was a sign of his erratic performance caused by his drinking. 

Likewise another precocious politician, Steven Purcell who at the tender age of 32 became leader of Glasgow City Council, was forced to seek treatment for addictions to alcohol having admitted to using cocaine while in office. MP Eric Joyce is yet another who let booze ruin him.

But the mayor of sober-sided Toronto, of all cities?  For better or for worse, he has put Canada’s largest city on the map. He is undoubtedly now the most famous Toronto mayor ever in history. He may even be more famous than the most famous mayor of all time, Dick Whittington. Except fame as a leader, as Mr Ford has amply demonstrated, is not all it is “cracked” up to be.

Leaders who achieve such vast amounts of notoriety tend to step down out of the glare of the public eye. Fred Goodwin comes to mind, having resigned, handed back (half) his pension and lost his knighthood, after the bank he ran became one of most colossal failures in UK corporate history. A subsequent stint at the privately-owned architects firm, RMJM - owned by his supportive old friend, Sir Fraser Morrison - wasn’t long lived, as constant haranguing about his role in that firm’s problems saw him opt to settle into obscurity. 

The lesson - if you are beyond the pale, go and gracefully.

As Som Seif, a Canadian money management specialist offered in a special report in the Globe and Mail: “Go into the sunset and walk away,” he advised the beleaguered mayor. “If this was in any other setting, this would be dealt with very swiftly,” he added, noting that most corporate boards would deal with such crazed behaviour with as little public fuss as possible.

Except the redoubtable Mr Ford is hanging on like a limpet. Even as the majority of his fellow councillors, his peers and the newspapers attempt to plead, cajole and bully him into leaving, there’s aught they can do. 

His elected term extends to October 2014. And unless the police move to charge him with a criminal offence and he is convicted, he can remain in post. And he seems to want to do this, with the support of his brother, also a Toronto city councillor and, it appears, his long suffering wife Renata.

Even the Canadian Football League issued a statement describing its “disappointment” after Ford appeared at another car crash press conference wearing a Toronto Argonauts jersey.

He’s got more brass neck than a robot sent back from the future by an evil genius with the aim of embarrassing the nation of Canada.

He is holding on to his role under extraordinary pressure, which provides a test as to just how damaged a public profile can get while still being able to hold down a job.

Of course, leaders don’t need to be loved and respected…

Look at Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, who has made a career out of being obnoxious and mean to customers. Although he has recently signalled a change in the cheap-as-chips airline’s business strategy. As the man himself said he wants to “stop unnecessarily pissing people off” - with extra baggage charges, punitive boarding card printing, or “jokes” that the airline might start charging for the air their passengers breathe. 

But a “cuddly” boss of Ryanair might be even worse. As Guardian columnist David Mitchell argues, negative publicity often worked in the company’s favour because it meant it was all about value. As “members of the public disgusted by Ryanair's treatment of the disabled one day, became customers checking its website for bargain flights the next,” he said.

Back in Toronto, I suspect the storm of public perception that has been threatening to blow Rob Ford away is starting to change. His sheer bloody-mindedness - apart from his possible drink and drug problems - might not be all so bad for a man elected on a pledge to tackle wasteful spending at city hall. Come 2014, if he is still in post and still aiming to run for re-election, there’s a slim but fattening chance he could even win. 

Conventional wisdom says get out while the getting is good. But it could just be that sheer determination might even be more compelling than this.