Toronto’s City Council voted overwhelmingly Friday to strip Mayor Rob Ford of some of his powers, trying to box in the brash leader who has rebuffed huge pressure to resign over his drinking and drug habits and erratic behavior. Ford vowed to challenge the measure in court.
The motion, approved in a 39-3 vote, suspends Ford’s authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee, which runs the budget process. In a separate vote, the council voted to give the deputy mayor authority to handle any civic emergency. The effort will continue Monday when the council moves to strip the mayor of most of his remaining powers.
The votes capped another frenzied week of twists and turns in the scandal that has consumed Canada’s largest city and financial capital for months.
Newly released court documents showed that the mayor became the subject of a police investigation after news reports surfaced in May that he had been caught on video smoking crack. In interviews with police, former staffers accused the mayor of frequently drinking on the job, driving while intoxicated and making sexual advances toward a female staffer. Ford stirred up further controversy – even offending Canada’s oldest football team – when he used profanity Thursday while angrily addressing the latest allegations.
Most city councilors are frustrated by Ford’s refusal to step aside but they lack the authority to force him out of office unless he is convicted of a crime.
An unusually subdued Ford said he had no choice but to fight the motion in court while also saying he understood why the council was taking the measures – a typical display of defiance followed by a flash of remorse.
“If I would have had a mayor conducting themselves the way I have, I would have done exactly the same thing,” Ford said.
The mayor, a conservative who touts his efforts to curb public spending and keep taxes low, later made it clear he intends to seek re-election next year.
“Councilors spoke today. The taxpayers of this great city will have their say Oct. 27,” Ford told a crush of reporters, referring to the date of the municipal elections. City Hall. A few hecklers shouted “Resign! Resign!”
Ford’s lawyer, Dennis Morris, called the council’s actions a “coup” and said they have hired a municipal law expert to challenge it.
The vote came a day after yet another series of antics from Ford that outraged city councilors, anti-drunk driving advocates and even Toronto’s football team, which protested when Ford wore a team jersey while making a profanity-laced statement.
“We need to take away his power for the good of the city,” said Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former ally. “The tide has turned and there are very few people that are prepared to defend him given his vulgar comments and his admission that not only does he takes drugs but that he seems to be comfortable drinking and getting behind the wheel.”
Morris, Ford’s lawyer, said he thought the council’s overwhelming support to strip the mayor’s power came about because of the public outcry over the obscenity that Ford spouted a day earlier while denying that he pressured a female employee for oral sex. The mayor said on live television that he was “happily married” and used crude language to say he enjoys enough oral sex at home.
“If it wasn’t for that stupid comment he made yesterday no one would have thought this (the council’s action) was appropriate,” Morris told The Associated Press. “It was a turning point for public sympathy. That type of remark is never every appropriate in public. There’s no doubt about it, he’s going to have to do a lot of leg work to gain back public confidence in him.”
Morris said the “media have been attacking him like jackals” and Ford “lost it.”
Ford announced Thursday that he was seeking help form a team of medical professionals, though he declined to provide details. Although the mayor has admitted to excessive drinking and using and buying illegal drugs, he and his family have insisted he is not an addict and does not need rehab.
But even Morris said the recently released court documents corroborate the fact that the mayor has a problem with alcohol. Morris said he doesn’t understand how police allowed him to drink and drive while the mayor was under surveillance the past six months.
“The problem drug Rob has is alcohol, that’s obvious,” Morris told The AP. “What I found very strange is that the police allowed a lot of this to go on under their supervision. If he was drinking and driving and he was impaired they should have stopped him.”
Ford’s troubles began escalating in May when news reports of the crack video surfaced. After months of evading the question, the mayor admitted to having smoked crack when Toronto police announced they had obtained the video. Police have said the video does not amount to enough evidence to charge the mayor and it has not been released because it is evidence before the court.
Revelations have rapidly surfaced of other startling behavior, including a video showing the mayor threatening to kill someone in an incoherent rant.
It has been a stunning decline for the 44-year-old mayor who was elected three years ago with fervent support from Toronto’s conservative-leaning outer suburbs, where many voters felt angry about they considered wasteful spending and elitist politics at City Hall.
John Filion, the councilor who introduced Friday’s motion, has said the goal is to prevent Ford from firing executive committee members who speak out against him. A motion to be considered Monday, already signed by 28 of the 44 council members, will take away his budget and appoint the deputy mayor as head of the executive committee.
Earlier this week, the council voted overwhelmingly to ask Ford to take a leave of absence, but the motion was non-binding. – AP