After a tempestuous debate, Toronto's City Council has stripped Mayor Rob Ford of the last of his substantive powers because of multiple scandals, but further turmoil seems inevitable.
After a tempestuous debate, Toronto’s City Council has stripped Mayor Rob Ford of the last of his substantive powers because of multiple scandals, but further turmoil seems inevitable.
The mayor, defiant despite admissions of illegal drug use and heavy drinking, vowed “outright war” to take on his critics in next year’s election.
“This is nothing more than a coup d’etat,” Ford said just before a series of votes went against him on Monday. “What’s happening here today is not a democratic process — it’s a dictatorship process.”
The council session was one of the stormiest in memory as the burly mayor argued with colleagues and members of the public and at one point knocked down a petite councilwoman as he charged toward one of his hecklers. Cries of “Shame, shame” came from the gallery.
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The council voted overwhelmingly in favor of slashing Ford’s office budget by 60 percent and allowing mayoral staff to join the deputy mayor, Norm Kelly. Ford now effectively has no legislative power, as he will no longer chair the executive committee, though he retains his title and ability to represent Toronto at official functions.
Kelly, 72, has been in politics since the 1970s, and is considered a low-key, non-ideological politician with a knack for working effectively across factional lines.
“The mayor wants to wage war. I want to wage peace,” said Kelly after the council session in effect made him the city’s most powerful leader.
Ford gave no indication he would cooperate in a tranquil transition, instead looking ahead to the October 2014 election.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to beat you guys,” he said.
The debate became heated after Ford paced around the council chamber and traded barbs with onlookers. The speaker asked security to clear the gallery and a recess was called, but not before Ford had barreled toward his detractors, mowing into Councilor Pam McConnell, who is in her 60s.
Another councilor asked Ford to apologize. Ford said he was rushing to the defense of his brother, city Councilor Doug Ford, and accidentally knocked McConnell down.
“I picked her up,” the 44-year-old mayor said. “I ran around because I thought my brother was getting into an altercation.”
Visibly shaken after Ford ran her over, McConnell said she never expected such chaos.
“This is the seat of democracy, it is not a football field,” she said. “I just wasn’t ready.”
The motion approved by the council was revised from an even tougher version to ward off potential legal challenges. The city’s lawyer said the proposal does not render Ford “mayor in name only.”
However, Ford asserted that he and his aides field tens of thousands of emails and phone calls yearly, and said the pared-down budget and staff would be inadequate.
The council does not have the power to remove Ford from office unless he is convicted of a crime. It pursued the strongest recourse available after recent revelations that Ford smoked crack cocaine and his repeated outbursts of erratic behavior.
“Mayor Ford has had many choices … Would he change his behavior? Would he step aside and seek help?” said Councilor John Filion. “The mayor unfortunately has chosen the path of denial. Now it’s time to take away the keys.”
“The new allegations pile up faster than the old ones can be dealt with. If many Torontonians were initially fascinated by the drama, they are now fed up with it. They want it to end,” Filion said.
The council rejected a motion proposing an early mayoral election, and also rejected a motion to give Ford another month to get expert medical opinion on whether he was capable of carrying out his duties.
Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former Ford ally, noted that organizers of Sunday’s annual Santa Claus parade in Toronto had asked the mayor not to attend.
“Through your choices, your bad actions, you sir have lost the ability to lead this city,” Minnan-Wong said.
Toronto, a city of 2.7 million people, has been abuzz with the Ford melodrama since May, when news outlets reported that he had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine.
Recently released court documents show the mayor became the subject of a police investigation after those reports surfaced. Ford, who denied there was any incriminating video, now acknowledges the reports were accurate. Police said they had obtained a copy of a video that appears to show Ford puffing on a crack pipe, but did not release its contents because it is evidence in the case against Ford associate Alexander Lisi, who faces trial on drug and extortion charges.
In interviews with police, former Ford staffers have made further accusations, saying the mayor drank heavily, sometimes drove while intoxicated and pressured a female staffer to engage in oral sex. Ford spouted an obscenity on live television last week while denying the sex allegation, saying he was “happily married” and using crude language to assert that he enjoys enough oral sex at home.
Last week, after admitting to excessive drinking and buying illegal drugs, Ford disclosed that he is seeking medical help. But he and his family insist he is not an addict and does not need rehab.
In a TV interview Monday night for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Ford said he had only smoked crack cocaine once, calling it “an isolated incident.” He denied that he has driven while drunk, but admitted that he had bought marijuana since becoming mayor.
The mayor declared that he was “finished” with alcohol.
“I’ve had a come-to-Jesus moment if you want to call it that,” Ford said. “Just the humiliation and the belittling and the people I’ve let down. And it’s all because of alcohol. Excessive, stupid, immature behavior and that’s it.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper — like Ford a Conservative — was in Toronto on Monday to meet with area Parliament members from his party. Harper’s office issued a statement which said the latest allegations against Ford “are troubling.”
“Our Government does not condone illegal drug use, especially by elected officials while in office,” it said.
Ford and his brother Doug made their debut on a current events television show broadcast Monday night called “Ford Nation” on the conservative tabloid Sun News Network in Canada.
Rob Ford told viewers they would see a change in him over the next few months. “I’ll take a urine sample right now,” Ford said on the show, which was taped Sunday.
Ford was elected three years ago with overwhelming support from Toronto’s conservative-leaning outer suburbs, where many voters felt angry about what they considered wasteful spending and elitist politics at City Hall. He campaigned on promises to “stop the gravy train” by curbing public spending and keeping taxes low.
Associated Press writers David Martin and Charmaine Noronha contributed to this report.