Initially I had my concerns with Mayor Ford agreeing to be a guest on Jimmy Kimmel's late night show.
But I should not have worried. Despite facing a barrage of good-humoured jokes, embarrassing videos of past foibles and probing questions, Ford comported himself calmly and coolly with good humour. Grace under pressure.
And Ford even had the self-confidence under the hot Hollywood lights, to launch a few zingers himself at his City Council critics and his enemies in the press.
This was great TV. It was edgy, no holds barred, two guys flying without a net -- and laugh out loud funny.
Kimmel was in fine fighting form. He might have even been training for this bout with Ford for months. He was lean, he was quick and he was very well prepared.
Kimmel admitted half-jokingly, "In a way I feel that I've been waiting for this night my whole life."
But Ford was ready for this match too. Ford strode out confidently, dressed in black with a bright tie and matching handkerchief. He looked more like lovable family man, Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, of The Sopranos fame, than a magician, as Kimmel joked.
And then Ford started chucking Ford Nation T-shirts into the crowd.
For a big man, Ford is very agile and athletic. (Later in the show, Kimmel showed a brief video of Ford on a football field, falling backward on his ass, trying to throw a football.)
This was a good, aggressive start for Ford. He had come to play. The home town crowd loved the free T-shirts.
Right from the opening intro, Kimmel was jabbing Ford with a left, then a right, then a quick combo left/right to the face and to Ford's stomach.
Kimmel asked, "Why are you on this show? What good could come of this?"
Kimmel was clearly the quick-witted Muhammad Ali, to Ford's more slow-moving, but very solid George Chuvalo.
If Ford was a little surprised by this comical assault, he quickly recovered and responded that he came on the show because Kimmel had personally called him on his cellphone.
Then Ford counter-punched with a brief defence of his political career, by saying that for 14 years, 10 years as councilman and four years as mayor, he always responded to the people. He takes their calls, listens to their problems and if required, he goes out to visit them at their homes to solve their problems. In effect, he gives out his number, because Toronto residents are his bosses.
Kimmel was temporarily thrown by the sincere honesty of Ford, the consummate retail politician.
Then Kimmel tried to hit Ford below the belt, by quoting Ford haters who were angry with Kimmel for having Ford on his show. These trolls claimed that Ford was racist, homophobic and other outrageous things.
Ford kept his cool. His smile never leaving his face. Calmly Ford replied, quickly and adroitly, "Is that all you got?" to the approval of the Kimmel crowd. They might have felt, as I had, that Kimmel had blindsided Ford.
Then Ford, keeping his cool, started promoting Toronto as a fantastic place. To the effect that it is booming with tonnes of cranes all over the city (accurately implying that there is still a construction boom in Toronto).
Ford stated that he wanted people to come to Toronto to see how good the city was.
Just as Ford was about to promote Toronto's film industry, citing the success of TIFF, Kimmel cut him off, which is unfortunate.
In a earlier CBC radio news report, prior to the Kimmel show, Ford had talked with a CBC reporter at length about the fact that Toronto had a very successful film and television industry. With millions of dollars being invested annually in film and television productions, this creates thousands of well-paying industry jobs. Ford was trying to use his profile to promote Toronto as a great place to do film and television business.
In the second round, after the break, Kimmel tried to sucker-punch Ford, by moving him off the comfort of the couch to a large TV screen, in order to have Ford comment on some of his most embarrassing videos:
- Ford's rant against an unknown enemy, (Ford admitted not remembering that video);
- Ford accidentally knocking down fellow councilor Pam McConnell in the council chambers;
- Ford speaking Jamaican patois at the infamous Steak Queen fast food restaurant (Ford explained that this was a private meeting with friends and that he has a lot of Jamaican friends, undermining claims that he is truly a racist.)
Fortunately for Ford, he laughed off these very embarrassing videos and when he returned to the couch, he
defended his record as mayor:
According to Ford, he's tamed the unions, stopping further strikes by the city garbage union and the TTC, privatizing garbage services, saving Toronto taxpayers over $800 Million and keeping tax increases to below 2 per cent annually. Yet Toronto is still booming.
Ford concluded with saying "90 per cent of what I said I was going to do is done." Ford caught Kimmel flatfooted with that legitimate claim.
In the last round, Kimmel was easier on Ford and suggested that he may want to get help for his drinking. Ford, true to form, countered that he was not elected to be perfect. Which of course was true then, as it is now. Ford never represented himself as a paragon of virtue or a model for Toronto's children.
Kimmel concluded that "Ford is the most wonderful mayor I have ever witnessed in my many years." I sensed that deep down, Kimmel, like the famous Ali toward Chuvalo, respected Ford, for being such a good sport.
And for surviving this tough 16-minute comic onslaught, still on his feet, with good humour.
Verdict: Kimmel may have won on comic points, but Ford did not embarrass himself. Nor did he embarrass the city of Toronto.
And, typical Ford, he controlled the media for the last several days.
I still think Ford is the man to beat.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: