TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto’s embattled mayor, Rob Ford, insisted on Wednesday he has zero tolerance for drugs and gangs, but also admitted he has bought illegal drugs in the past two years.
Speaking at a City Council meeting during which members almost unanimously urged him to take a break from his job, Ford said he cannot change his past actions, which include acknowledged use of crack cocaine. But he asserted his intention to continue to work as mayor so he can carry out his promise to save money for Toronto taxpayers.
Asked if he had bought illegal drugs in the past two years, he replied somberly: “Yes, I have.”
Ford, elected in 2010 on a promise to end the City Hall “gravy train”, admitted last week that he had smoked crack cocaine in “one of my drunken stupors”. Wednesday’s call for him to step aside came in council’s first meeting since that admission.
“Our city’s reputation has been damaged and continues to suffer,” City Councillor Jaye Robinson read from a non binding petition signed by 30 of the city’s 44 councilors, and passed by a vote of 41 to two.
“Together we stand to ask you to step aside and take a leave of absence to address your challenges privately outside of the public eye.”
Councilors will vote later on a separate motion that asks Ford both to take a leave of absence and to apologize for “misleading” Toronto residents.
Council has no power to force the mayor to step down or take a break unless he is convicted of a crime, and Ford insists he has no plans to go, or to seek treatment.
“I am not an addict of any sort, so I am not quite sure why you are saying that I need help,” he told councilors during an hour-long grilling that centered on his fitness to remain the city’s chief magistrate.
“I can understand how people would perceive my behavior,” he added. “The reason I drank or did drugs was not because of stress, it was out of sheer stupidity. That’s all it was.”
As the questions continued, hundreds of protesters gathered outside City Hall, many of them calling on Ford to step down.
An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for several TV and radio stations showed that 76 percent of Toronto voters think Ford should step down or take a leave of absence, while only 24 percent agreed with Ford’s insistence on staying in his job.
The scandal of the crack-smoking mayor broke six months ago, when the Toronto Star newspaper and media blog Gawker said they had been shown a video of the mayor smoking crack, an allegation that Ford spent six months denying.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has since confirmed the video exists, and Ford admitted earlier this month that he had indeed smoked crack.
The events brought back memories of the scandal that enveloped former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry after he was filmed smoking crack in 1990.
Ford’s admission has made him the target of late night-talk show jokes and put the international media interest on Toronto, including extensive coverage of Wednesday’s City Hall debate on U.S. networks.
Asked on Wednesday if more embarrassing revelations could come, Ford said: “As far as I know... you don’t know if people are videoing this or doing that. I don’t know what’s out there right now. But everything that I‘m aware of is out there.”
Last week, the Star bought a separate video that showed Ford in an expletive-laden rant, making threats to unspecified persons and pounding his hands together. Ford apologized and admitted he was “extremely inebriated”.
But more information is likely. A Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered the release of more details from a police investigation that resulted in drug-trafficking and extortion charges against Ford’s friend and part-time driver Sandro Lisi.
A heavily redacted 474-page file was released two weeks ago and showed police had had the mayor under close surveillance for months, and had recorded numerous meetings with Lisi in parks and other venues. The judge ruled on Wednesday that some of the redacted portions be revealed.
Ford said on Wednesday that his lawyer had advised him not to cooperate with police investigations.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Janet Guttsman; and Peter Galloway