Toronto Mayor Rob Ford apologized to the residents of Canada’s largest city Tuesday after admitting that he lied for six months about smoking crack cocaine, declaring “I love my job” and saying he would stay in it “for the sake of the taxpayers.”
In what appears to be the opening salvo of a battle to remain in power, Ford cast his continued public service as necessary to save Toronto residents’ money and make what he called “the important decisions that must be made.”
But having denied wrongdoing since allegations of his illegal drug use surfaced in May, Ford is likely to face renewed political pressure to step down and put an end to the scandal that has plagued the city.
Reports by the Toronto Star and the gossip website Gawker in May claimed a cellphone video had been made showing Ford smoking a glass pipe said to contain crack. Three other men at the scene were later identified as members of a drug gang.
Ford denied at the time that he had used illegal drugs and said he hadn’t seen the purported video because it “does not exist.” But last week, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced that two video images had been recovered from an erased data base in the course of a related drug investigation.
“The video files depict images that are consistent with what has previously been reported,” Blair said at a news conference. “It’s safe to say the mayor does appear in the video."
Ford and his city councillor brother, Doug Ford, used their Sunday radio talk show to accuse Blair of politicizing the city’s law enforcement. Doug Ford insisted Blair should resign.
But at lunchtime Tuesday, the mayor approached a mob of reporters outside his office and offered to answer the question they had posed repeatedly in May.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford said, while denying he is an addict. “Have I tried it? Probably, in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
A few hours later, a seemingly repentant mayor reappeared before the world’s cameras again to say that he lied because he was “ashamed” of his behavior.
“I know what I did was wrong, and admitting it was the most difficult and embarrassing thing I’ve ever had to do,” Ford said, adding that the admission felt like “a thousand pounds has been lifted off my shoulders.”
But Ford said he had been elected by the people of Toronto to do a job and that he planned to stay in office until an election set for Oct. 27, 2014.
“There is important work that we must advance and important decisions that must be made. For the sake of the taxpayers of this great city, for the sake of the taxpayers, we must get back to work immediately. We must keep Toronto moving forward,” the mayor said.
Political colleagues immediately challenged his claim to be able to put the scandal behind him.
Councillor Jaye Robinson said Ford’s admission showed that he didn’t have even “a shred of credibility” and needed to step down or take a leave of absence.
“The real issue is getting the mayor to address his health issues, step aside, take a leave of absence, as I’ve been saying for six long months,” Robinson told reporters in an exchange carried by CBC television.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong urged Ford to take a leave so that the important business of the city can get done.
“We need leaders who are going to advance the fiscal agenda of the city,” said Minnan-Wong, who with another member of the administrative council put forward a motion to put financial constraints on the mayor’s powers. “There are too many things happening that are coming in the way of that.”
Another city leader, Councillor John Filion, told CTV News that the appointed council that serves as a Cabinet-like body doesn’t have the authority to remove the mayor, who is elected. But he indicated that Ford’s peers hope he will step down voluntarily.
“The city has important work to do,” said Filion, describing the drug-use allegations and admission as a distracting “train wreck.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne called for an end to the “huge amount of turmoil at City Hall right now.”
All four of Toronto’s leading newspapers had called for Ford’s resignation before his revelation of crack use. Other Canadian media, though, have reported that the mayor’s popularity had actually increased in recent months among Torontonians attracted to his 2010 campaign vows to curb wasteful public spending.