Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed to continue as head of Canada’s biggest city and said he will run in the next election after admitting he used crack cocaine.
“I want the people of this great city to decide whether they want Rob Ford to be their mayor,” he said today at a media conference at city hall that was broadcast by CP24 television.
Ford, 44, said he has “nothing left to hide” and these “mistakes” would never happen again.
“I love this city, I love saving taxpayers money and I love being your mayor,” he said at the conference.
Ford’s vow to press on followed his admission today at an earlier media conference that he smoked crack cocaine, likely in one of his “drunken stupors.”
Pressure is mounting for Ford to resign after Toronto police said last week they had found a video that showed him appearing to inhale from a glass pipe. The Toronto Star and U.S. website Gawker were the first to report on the video in May, sparking a five-month police investigation that included airplane surveillance and cameras mounted on poles tracking Ford’s movements.
At the time, the mayor said he didn’t smoke crack and that he couldn’t comment on a video he had not seen.
Ford’s lawyer Dennis Morris said on CP24 today he didn’t think Ford had consulted with anyone, including him, before admitting to crack use.
Ford, who apologized on Nov. 3 for being “hammered” at a street party in August and for being in his office at 2 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day with a half-empty bottle of brandy, vowed to curb his drinking and get a driver. He has repeatedly said he wouldn’t resign.
“I feel like a thousand pounds have been lifted off my shoulders,” Ford said at the second media conference today. “I can’t explain how difficult this was to do.”
Several city councilors and at least three Toronto newspapers had urged the mayor to step aside before today.
Councilor Jaye Robinson repeated that call today.
“Right now, he does not have a shred of credibility,” Robinson said at city hall in an interview on CP24. “If he really cares about Toronto and he really wants to do what’s in the best interest of Toronto and himself and his family, he needs to step aside.”
Ford was elected in October 2010 on a promise to “stop the gravy train” at city hall amid support from Toronto’s outer suburbs, parts of which became known as “Ford Nation.”
He cut council budgets and outsourced half the city’s residential waste collection to private industry. Ford also eliminated a vehicle registration fee and waged a battle to expand the public transportation system through subways as opposed to surface transit.
Toronto is in the midst of a building boom with hundreds of high-rises under construction. It has overtaken Chicago as the fourth-largest North American city with a population of 2.79 million, according to a statement from the city in March. Home to the country’s five largest banks, two of the biggest insurers and its largest wireless operator, Toronto’s economy is driven by financial services.
While Ford’s time as mayor was marked by controversy and has been lampooned by late-night U.S. talk-show hosts including Jon Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel, the city’s finances were praised by Moody’s Investors Service.
In 2012, Toronto cut spending for the first time since it was amalgamated with five surrounding suburbs in 1998, Moody’s said in a May 15 report. Its debt burden is half the average of other Canadian cities.
The city’s net debt to total revenue is 37 percent, compared with an average of about 65 percent to 70 percent for Canadian cities, Moody’s said in its annual review on the city, a day before the video allegation broke. That compares with Montreal’s at 97 percent and Quebec City at 127 percent, according to the most recent data, Jennifer Wong, an analyst at Moody’s, said by telephone in May.
It is this budgetary progress that has helped Ford maintain backing.
Support from his base was holding fast before Ford’s admission today, according to a poll by Forum Research Inc. While 71 percent of downtowners polled on Oct. 31 disapproved of Ford after police said they found the video, 54 percent in the eastern suburb of Scarborough and 44 percent in Etobicoke said he was doing a good job, according to the poll. Forum Research questioned 1,032 voting-age Torontonians; the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent 19 times out of 20.
“We know Ford Nation is really loyal,” Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, said by phone from Toronto yesterday. “They’ve stuck with the mayor through thick and thin.”
Councilor Robinson said the city can’t take any legal steps to remove Ford.
“I looked at every possible option and measure and city council can not remove him from his chair,” Robinson said.
Ford hasn’t been charged with any crime and police said there wasn’t enough evidence in the video to warrant criminal charges.
The province of Ontario may need to take action to remove the mayor, Richard Leblanc, an associate professor of law, corporate governance and ethics at York University in Toronto.
“For any leader to be doing hard drugs while in office, it’s a non-starter,” Leblanc said. “The right thing to do is to resign and get help. If he digs in and refuses to go, then appropriate measures need to be taken.”
A 500-page police document filed in court last week detailed an investigation that followed up on the initial news reports about the video. The document described how Ford met multiple times with Alexander Lisi, who has been arrested on drug and extortion charges. Ford has called Lisi a friend.
After one of their meetings, in which Lisi put a manila envelope in Ford’s black Cadillac Escalade while Ford was inside a gas station, Lisi employed “counter-surveillance maneuvers,” driving quickly and dodging through traffic, police said in the document.
Drugs and drunkenness haven’t been Ford’s only controversies in office. In January, he won an appeal of a court ruling that had found him in conflict of interest over donations collected for his high school football charity. He has been photographed reading briefing notes while driving on a city expressway and gave up on a public weight-loss campaign he dubbed “Cut the Waist” to trim his frame, which once clocked in at 330 pounds.
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