New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford are both conservative politicians with personalities as outsized as their physical selves. (How is that for a euphemistic way of saying that, like me, they are very fat?)
But despite those broad similarities, their political fortunes, at least of late, could not be more different.
Christie is running for re-election as governor of New Jersey, and the polling has consistently indicated that his margin of victory may be 20 to 25 percent. More than anything else, his very visible presence in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy seems to have convinced a majority of voters in the state that, whatever they might think of his specific political positions, he truly cares about the state and its residents. And, if he wins re-election by the projected margin, he will almost certainly be included among the early frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
In contrast, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been confronting one debacle after another. His troubles started when, just two years after he was re-elected, he was found guilty of a conflict of interest, and a judge ordered him to step down as mayor. Over the next six months, both Ford and those bringing the charges against him filed successive appeals, but after a lower court had vacated the verdict against Ford, the Ontario Supreme Court refused to hear the case. In the meantime, Ford was accused of being intoxicated at several public events, accusations that included claims that while intoxicated, he has sexually harassed several women. That cluster of accusations came to a head when someone began shopping around a video that seemingly shows Ford smoking crack cocaine. Although Ford asserted that the video was a malicious fake, two reporters for the Toronto Star viewed it and wrote that if the video had been maliciously edited, the editing had been done very expertly. The Toronto police department subsequently indicated that it had been aware of the existence of the video for a number of weeks before it publicly surface.
It is worth noting that, like Chris Christie, Rob Ford has long been known for making off-the-cuff remarks that some have regarded as completely obnoxious while others have characterized them as refreshingly blunt. And like Christie, Ford had managed to be re-elected by very wide margins as a member of the Toronto Council, until, with his election as mayor of the city, his career seems to have imploded. It may be that outsized political figures, like outsized personalities in many other fields, simply do not have a long shelf life. What brings them dramatically to attention simply causes larger numbers of people to start paying closer attention, and their idiosyncratic behavior cannot withstand the scrutiny.
On the other hand, Chris Christie has recently had lap-band surgery in an effort to reduce his weight, and whether his political ambitions were or were not a major factor in that medical decision, a significant loss of weight would certainly reduce concerns about his ability to physically withstand the rigors of the presidency. I do, however, see a downside to such a weight loss. His current size is, if you’ll allow the pun, a large part of his political persona. We may not expect all big guys to be blustery, to have personalities that match their physical size, but we are not surprised when there is such a correlation. A fat guy with an attitude may seem a force of nature, but a skinny guy with the same attitude may seem like nothing more than a real prick.
But it has now been six months since Christie has had the surgery, and thus far, his weight loss has not been dramatically visible. So, at least for now, I think that the belt height of these two politicians might be used accurately as a metaphor for their current political fortunes.
(I am not sure what this metaphor suggests about any smaller scale “political” ambitions I might have, for as will be readily apparent to those of you who know me, I am clearly in the Rob Ford camp in terms of belt height.)