05/03/2012 10:15 EDT | Updated 05/03/2012 10:25 EDT

Rob Ford, Toronto Mayor, Tarnishing City's Reputation With Antics, Say Political Observers

TORONTO - Toronto's reputation is increasingly undermined by the antics of its bombastic mayor, some political observers and insiders warned a day after Rob Ford's latest clash with the media.

The embattled mayor faced off Wednesday evening with a reporter he accuses of spying on his home, the second time he has called police to intervene when members of the media have come calling at his west-end house.

The feud continued Thursday as the mayor pushed to have Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale charged by police and removed from covering city hall. Ford then told a radio station he wouldn't speak to any media in Dale's presence.

The incident reignited a heated debate over Ford's often tense dealings with the media, in particular the Star, and prompted some _ including at least one city councillor _ to question his judgment.

Counc. Shelley Carroll, who has frequently butted heads with the mayor, said his chronic "overreactions" are drawing jokes and eye rolls in political circles outside the city.

"It's the conversation opener" when meeting officials across Canada and even parts of the U.S., she said Thursday.

Wednesday's incident "takes us into the realm of _ one could almost say _ international embarrassment," she added.

Graham White, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Ford's blunders have given the city "a really bad image" beyond simple ridicule.

Unlike former mayor Mel Lastman, whose many gaffes both irritated and charmed the public, Ford "is coming across as a thug," a far more alarming reputation, he said.

The mayor's threatened media blackout is "absolutely appalling," White said. That it came on World Press Freedom Day adds a note of irony to an otherwise troubling development, he added.

Social media was abuzz Thursday as the public weighed in on the controversy, with many mocking the mayor for losing his cool.

"For sheer entertainment value, this is a Golden Age in Toronto civic politics. But, My God, Rob Ford is a knob!" tweeted one Vancouver man.

Others rushed to the mayor's defence.

"Sorry, I'm with Mayor Ford on this one. The Toronto Star crossed the line completely," a Toronto man wrote on Twitter.

The controversy will only cement the public's perception of Ford, whether for or against him, said Melanee Thomas, a political expert with Queen's University.

"The people who are rolling their eyes... are probably people who may not have voted for him in the first place," she said.

Neither Ford nor his brother Counc. Doug Ford were immediately available for comment.

Police have launched an investigation into the incident, which began when a neighbour saw someone he said appeared to be in the mayor's backyard with a recording device.

The Star said Dale was on public property next to Ford's home and was there to research a story about a piece of land Ford wants to buy. The paper maintains Dale was not there to harass Ford.

A visibly angry Ford held a press conference outside his home on Wednesday night denouncing the reporter's actions, adding when he confronted Dale, the journalist dropped his phone and recorder before running away.

Dale said Ford yelled and charged at him with one fist up even though the reporter pleaded for him to stop.

Ford said Thursday morning he "never laid a hand on" Dale but stressed he doesn't want to see the reporter in any media scrums.

"I will not be talking to any reporters if he is part of that scrum," he told radio station AM640.

This isn't the first time Ford has been involved in a dust-up with a member of the media.

In October, Ford called 911 after Mary Walsh of the CBC's comedy series "22 Minutes" confronted him in his driveway dressed as her Marg Delahunty, Princess Warrior character.

Ford, who has had death threats, said he didn't know who Walsh was and feared for his safety.

(The Canadian Press, AM640, CFRB, 680News)

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