What Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can learn about the public relations of sex scandals

November 14, 2013

After months of rumors, Toronto’s Mayor Tom Ford has admitted to smoking crack cocaine.

His excuse? He was really, really drunk. “I was probably in a drunken stupor,” he said in a press conference Tuesday.

Ford isn’t the first politician, nor will he be the last, to have his dirty laundry made public. But he arguably could have handled the revelations better if he would have followed in the footsteps of formerly disgraced politicians and disgruntled Hollywood starlets.

The first question is – why did it take him six months to fess up? Gawker saw the video almost six months ago, and the mayor’s office didn’t respond. In that six months, couldn’t they have devised a plan more clever plan to make sure the mayor’s name wouldn’t be tarnished forever.

For politicians and especially Ford, the motto should be tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth – because the rest will come out, some way, some how.

Take Anthony Weiner (Carlos Danger) for example – sending infamous photos to women he had never met. He resigns, has his wife by his side, seeks therapy, gets some good press. Then, he tries to run for the New York City mayoral seat. Wife is still by his side, he leads in polls – a man reborn. Until more information emerged. Even after his resignation and his son’s birth, he was still sexting. He lost, and he lost badly. Then, he flipped off a reporter.

There’s more hope for their redemption in the media if Ford and other embattled public figures make it rehab. Sure, sending someone to rehab right after a public scandal can be called a PR tactic, but it seems to be one of the only things that works.

Take another mayor that made some missteps, Gavin Newsom.

In 2007, when he was mayor of San Francisco, it was revealed he had an affair two years earlier with an office employee. Less than a month later, he went into treatment for alcohol abuse. Not for a sex addiction – and his statement made clear he wasn’t trying to blame alcohol for his marital indiscretion – but it still managed to work. This discretion is an afterthought on his Wikipedia page, and he has won a higher office in government.

So, politicians should admit to the truth and seek therapy or rehab for the problems brought up in the scandal. Check. Then what? Stay in rehab or therapy an appropriate amount of time.

San Diego’s ex-mayor, Bob Filner, is the latest politico to make headlines for his behavior. Sexually harassing multiple employees is not a great business practice, especially for those in public office. But worse is saying you’ll go to therapy for two weeks – which was already perceived as dodging the bullet – then leaving after less than a week. He then resigned, and ended up pleading guilty to criminal charges against him in the incident. Not great damage control.

If he makes it out of rehab or intensive therapy, the next thing Ford needs to do is lay low. He probably shouldn’t be seen going out drinking or smoking crack. It is rare – but possible – to eventually make the way back into the public spotlight.

Two years after his resignation, Eliot Spitzer, who was once NYC mayor, started trickling back into the public eye. He was secluded for eight and a half months, before he gradually got back in the game. Slowly with online articles and minor appearances, he wasn’t liked, but he wasn’t hated, either. By 2013, he was running for another public office. Sure, he lost, but his campaign didn’t go down in flames like Weiner’s. And even without public office, Spitzer is probably going to be okay.

Ford and his team need to study the cases of the politicians who screwed up before as they continue to fight fire from citizens and the media. It is probably too late to save his position in office, but it’s not too late to try to redeem himself and alter a potentially infamous legacy.

For more great commentary on sex scandals, watch old episodes of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart hosted by John Oliver.

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