The Toronto City Council moved a step closer to making Rob Ford a mayor in name only following months of publicity surrounding his excessive drinking and drug use, and will look to complete those efforts next week when council resumes.
Ford vowed to take City Council to court after it voted overwhelmingly Friday to strip him of some of his powers over his admitted use of crack cocaine, public drinking and increasingly erratic behavior.
The motion, approved in a 39-3 vote, suspends Ford’s authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee. The council, which lacks the authority to force the mayor from office unless he is convicted of a crime and jailed, also 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, including his office budget. It would also appoint the deputy mayor to lead of his executive committee. That motion has already been signed by 28 of the council’s 44 members.
The votes capped another frenzied week of twists and turns in a scandal that has been the talk of Canada’s largest city and financial capital for months.
Recently released court documents show the mayor became the subject of a police investigation after news reports surfaced in May that he had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine. In interviews with police, former staffers accused the mayor of frequently drinking, driving while intoxicated and making sexual advances toward a female staffer.
Ford stirred up further controversy and even offended Toronto’s football team when he wore a team jersey while making a profanity-laced statement about the allegations Thursday.
It has been a stunning decline for mayor who was elected three years ago with overwhelming support from Toronto’s conservative-leaning suburbs, where many voters felt angry about what they considered wasteful spending and elitist politics at City Hall.
His mood swings were on full display Friday as he defiantly vowed to fight the motion in court, then conceded he understood why the council took the measures.
Then, in a flash of remorse, the 44-year-old Ford declared: “If I would have had a mayor conducting themselves the way I have, I would have done exactly the same thing. I’m not mad at anybody. I take full responsibility.”
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 at City Hall, referring to next year’s municipal elections. Nearby, a few hecklers shouted, “Resign! Resign!”
Ford said he didn’t care that many council members were laughing at him, noting he won a large mandate in the 2010 election and was laughed at for years as a councilman before being elected mayor.
“They laughed at me for 13 years but fortunately 387,000 people never laughed at me. We’ll see what happens” the mayor said.
Ford’s lawyer, Dennis Morris, accused the council of attempting an illegal “coup” and said Ford has hired a municipal law expert, lawyer George Rust-D’Eye, to challenge it. “Council clearly has the power to amend or appeal its own bylaws but at the same time it doesn’t have the legal power to restrict the statutory responsibilities of the mayor of Toronto,” Rust-D’Eye said.
Ford’s brother and adviser, councilman Doug Ford, called him “the mayor of the people” and said the rights of those who voted for him were being trampled.
Friday’s vote capped a week featuring a series of antics that outraged city councilors.
On Thursday, Ford spouted an obscenity while denying that he pressured a female employee for oral sex, saying on live television that he was “happily married,” and using crude language to assert that 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,” his attorney Morris told The Associated Press.
“It was a turning point for public sympathy. That type of remark is never ever appropriate in public,” the attorney said, adding that the “media have been attacking him like jackals” and Ford “lost it.”
Ford said he was seeking medical help, though he declined to provide details. Although the mayor has admitted to excessive drinking and using and buying illegal drugs, he and his family insist he is not an addict and does not need rehab.
Still, even Morris said the recently released court documents show the mayor has a drinking problem. But he also criticized police for allowing Ford to drink and drive while under surveillance over 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.”
Earlier this week, the council voted overwhelmingly to ask Ford to take a leave of absence, but the motion was non-binding.
No matter what the council does, Ford seems intent to remain in the limelight. The tabloid Sun News Network announced that the mayor and his brother Doug, a city councilor, will do a current events television show called “Ford Nation” on Monday nights.