Video: Toronto Mayor admits crack use as wild ride in office continues
Rob Ford tells news conference he probably tried the drug in a ‘drunken stupor’
He has been thrown out of a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game for being drunk and belligerent. He groped a female politician at a fundraiser for a Jewish community group, and was asked to stop coaching a high school football team after having a violent confrontation with one of the players. He has admitted to drinking too much.
But until Tuesday, Rob Ford, the mayor of multicultural, eco-conscious, politically correct Toronto, had vehemently denied a persistent story of a video that showed him smoking crack cocaine.
“You asked me a question back in May and you can repeat that question,” Mr Ford told a crush of journalists, photographers and camera operators. “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But no, do I, am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
During his brief, impromptu news conference outside of his City Hall office, Mr Ford insisted he has not been lying since May when he first denied reports that he used crack.
At that time, the website Gawker and the Toronto Star newspaper both reported having viewed a video from a man trying to sell it that apparently showed the mayor inhaling from a crack pipe and making homophobic remarks about another politicians.
Last week the questions surrounding the mayor intensified after Toronto’s police chief, William Blair, said his force had recovered that video from a computer seized in a drug and gang violence investigation.
“I wasn’t lying, you didn’t ask the correct questions,” Mr Ford said on Tuesday. “No, I’m not an addict and no, I do not do drugs. I made mistakes in the past and all I can do is apologise, but it is what it is.” In a tumultuous four-year term that will draw to a close next year, Mr Ford has been accused of a litany of boorish actions, profane outbursts and insensitive comments - so many, in fact, that one of his critics felt the need to compile a spreadsheet to keep track of them all.
But until this one, the episodes only seemed to reinforce Mr Ford’s standing among his core constituency, what he calls the Ford Nation, of disenchanted, right of centre suburbanites.
Now his mayoralty is in serious doubt. Mr Ford’s switch from outraged denial to confession was dramatic and swift. On a weekly radio talk show last Sunday, which the mayor co-hosts with his brother Doug, who is also a member of City Council, Mr Ford apologized, somewhat vaguely, for occasionally getting drunk, but avoided the cocaine issue.
It was not clear why the mayor changed course on Tuesday. But Mr Ford’s confession only increased the calls from members of City Council, opponents and allies alike for him to step down, at least temporarily.
“I think he’s lost the moral authority to lead,” Denzil Minnan-Wong, a longtime supporter, told reporters outside the mayor’s office shortly after the confession. “We’re in uncharted territory.”
Under Ontario municipal law, however, neither the City Council nor the province have the power to remove Mr Ford from office unless he stops coming to work for a protracted period.
Since May, both Mr Ford and his brother have rejected the drug allegations as little more than a smear campaign by the news media, which he has dismissed as “maggots,” reserving his strongest vitriol for the Toronto Star.
About two hours before the mayor’s confession, Doug Ford extended his attack toward Blair, the police chief, who during a news conference last week said of the video, “As a citizen of the city, I am disappointed.”
Doug Ford, his hands noticeably trembling, told a news conference that the remark showed that the police chief is biased and called for him to step aside until after all investigations related to the mayor are finished.
Mr Ford, who was not initially regarded as a serious mayoral candidate in 2010, focused heavily on issues that resonated with disgruntled suburban voters, many of whom had lost their jobs due to factory closings in Toronto in the past decade.
Toronto had long developed policies to limit private automobile use in favour of buses, subways and streetcars. But Mr Ford vowed to end the city’s “war on cars,” the preferred mode of transport for suburbanites. Ending a newly introduced municipal automobile registration tax was also high on his campaign agenda.
But most of all, Mr Ford declared that the city’s prosperous, growing downtown was filled with spoiled elites who were robbing suburbanites of tax dollars to their own ends.
Combined with the decision of the previous mayor, David Miller, not to seek re-election and the votes split between liberal candidates, Mr Ford emerged as mayor.
“If it was the old city of Toronto you wouldn’t see anybody of his ilk finish second or third, let alone fourth,” said Adam Vaughan, a city councillor from downtown who to a large degree represents all that Mr Ford campaigned against.
About four and a half hours after his admission, Rob Ford appeared in an anteroom to his office crowded with reporters and photographers. His once-defiant tone was replaced by expressions of regret and remorse.
“To the residents of Toronto: I know I have let you down and I cannot do anything else other than apologise,” Rob Ford said, near tears at times. But he was equally adamant that he would not heed calls to step down, even temporarily: “I was elected to do a job, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing.”
Whatever Mr Ford’s shortcomings, he has never been accused of corruption. And because Canadian mayors lack the powers of American mayors, Mr Ford has failed with many of his grand ambitions for the city - a casino and a giant Ferris wheel, among others - while, at the same time, spoiling plans of his left-of-centre opponents on the Council.
But Mr Vaughan said that the negative effects of the mayor and his brother on the city go beyond bad publicity. “Toronto used to be a city that set the pace,” said Vaughan, who many anticipate will run for mayor next year, citing the city’s history in housing, transit and policing.
“But if you are of the political persuasion that believes government is bad, having the Council constantly fail doesn’t offend you.”
Like many in Toronto, Mr Vaughan is uncertain about how Mr Ford’s story will end. But he said that the power of the mayor’s anti-tax, anti-government platform can’t be ignored.
“If he had kept his drinking under control,” Mr Vaughan said, “if he could have kept his other habits under control, let alone out of videos, he may have been very tough to beat in the next election.”
New York Times