From saga to circus: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford takes on city council

City councilors want Rob Ford to step aside. But the Toronto mayor, who admitted to smoking cocaine, is vowing to stand for reelection next year. 

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP
Mayor Rob Ford talks during a City Council debate in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted Wednesday that he bought illegal drugs in the past two years and that he will not step down.

To say it hasn’t been a very good few weeks for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford would be an understatement. Wednesday’s City Council hearing didn’t help any.

By turns combative, apologetic and even befuddling, Mr. Ford faced off with councilors livid both about his admission that he smoked crack cocaine while in office and his insistence on staying on as head of Canada’s largest city. He also for the first time admitted he had purchased illegal drugs.

“This has been the worst week of my life,” Ford said before the council’s packed chambers at a hearing televised nationally by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Even before Wednesday’s hearing, Ford’s saga – dubbed “The Greatest Political Train Wreck of Our Time” by the national news magazine Maclean’s – had captivated not only Toronto but much of Canada. The 44-year-old one-time aspiring football player and member of a highly successful family packaging and labeling business had gained renown both for blunt remarks as city councilor and his push for lower taxes and less regulation.

In 2010, Ford swept to victory in the mayoral election, brandishing campaign slogans like “stop the gravy train” and “respect the taxpayer” to garner support from more conservative suburban voters alienated by what some perceive to be “downtown-centric, liberal-dominated politics.”

Most Torontonians were long aware of Ford’s eyebrow-raising antics —appearing drunk at a Maple Leafs hockey game or saying that bicyclists had only themselves to blame if they were killed by cars — but in May, the Toronto Star newspaper and another media outlet reported a video had surfaced that showed Ford smoking crack cocaine. Since then, the steady drip of reports has turned into a flood, culminating in Ford’s admission Nov. 5 to reporters that he had indeed smoked the drug, but had done it “probably in one of my drunken stupors.”

He also vowed to stay in office, angering many who felt the admission was the last straw: “I was elected to do a job and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing. On Oct. 27 of 2014, I want the people of this great city to decide whether they want Rob Ford to be their mayor.”

“His mayoralty has been an experiment in what would happen if you had a feral 16-year-old boy for mayor,” Canadian novelist Stephen Marche wrote in an op-piece published Nov. 6.

For many, what’s even more astonishing than Ford’s admissions is the fact that his popularity has remained virtually unchanged. One poll of 1,157 Toronto voters taken the day after his admission found his approval rating unchanged at 44 percent since the middle of October, as well as the percentage who say he should resign. The survey, by Forum Research, had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

In an interview with CNN, Ford’s brother, Doug, himself a city councilor and a staunch defender of his brother, insisted Mayor Ford was getting counseling— though he didn’t say what for — as well as going on a diet and working out

“He’s taking the right steps, moving forward,” Doug Ford said. “This man has apologized profusely, the rest is purely political... If the election was held tomorrow, there’s an extremely, extremely good chance of winning and that’s what they’re worried about."

As hundreds of people packed the square in front of City Hall Wednesday, Ford sounded remorseful at times, saying he had used and purchased illegal drugs in the past, but said it was caused by “sheer stupidity,” not by stress.

“I understand the embarrassment that I’ve caused every resident in this city,” Ford was quoted as saying. “I’m humiliated by it but I can’t change the past.”

Thirty of the council’s 44 members have sought a resolution calling on Ford to take a leave of absence, but it would be non-binding since only provincial officials could force Ford to step aside. Last week, Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey said the province had no plans to amend any laws to force Ford from office, and described the controversy surrounding Ford as “extreme, certainly, from a public-attention perspective.”

Ford has not been charged with any crime, though Toronto city police have investigated a close associate.

If there was any good news to be had for Ford this week, it came on Tuesday when thousands lined up outside City Hall to buy “bobblehead” dolls bearing his likeness, with proceeds going to charity.  

By Wednesday, the “Robbie Bobbie” dolls, which sold out in hours, were being hawked on eBay for hundreds of dollars.

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