TORONTO (Reuters) – Toronto City Council asked embattled Mayor Rob Ford on Wednesday to take a break from his job to deal with “personal issues”, which he admits include both buying illegal drugs and smoking crack cocaine.
The nonbinding vote came on a day during which both Ford’s opponents and his former allies interrogated the mayor on his suitability to lead Canada’s largest city. Ford said he won’t quit.
“I am not an addict of any sort, so I am not quite sure why you are saying that I need help,” Ford told councilors during an hour-long grilling.
Speaking after the vote, he issued the latest in a string of apologies, and added: “I really effed up.”
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”.
He insisted on Wednesday he has zero tolerance for drugs and gangs. But asked if he had bought illegal drugs in the past two years, he paused for several seconds and replied somberly: “Yes, I have.”
Councilors voted 37-5 in favor of a formal, but nonbinding, motion urging Ford to take a leave of absence, and also urged him to apologize for “misleading” Toronto residents.
“There’s no question that the residents of this city are opposed to the mayor’s behavior. I am, you are, we are,” Councilor Karen Stintz said.
“Because of the mayor’s behavior, I’m explaining to my nine-year old what crack cocaine is. Because of my mayor I’m explaining that it’s not okay to lie and then apologize when you get caught.”
Council has no power to force the mayor to step down or take a break from his job unless he is convicted of a crime. Ford insists he has no plans to go, or to seek treatment.
As the questions continued at council, 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 spotlight 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 Ford may soon face more questions about his conduct. 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 released two weeks ago showed police had had the mayor under close surveillance for months, and had recorded evidence of numerous meetings with Lisi. The judge ruled on Wednesday that some of the redacted portions should be made public.
The police file includes a widely circulated photo of a grinning Ford with three young men, one of whom was shot dead in Toronto earlier this year. The other two have been charged in a massive Toronto drug and guns sweep known as “Project Traveler”.
Ford said on Wednesday he had not met the three men before the photo was taken.
He also said that his lawyer had advised him not to speak to the police about their investigations.
As if Ford’s problems couldn’t get worse, he also seems to have run afoul of Ford Motor Co over shirts the mayor was selling as part of a charity drive this week. The shirts feature the Ford oval corporate logo and the word “nation” under it.
“Ford (Motor) did not grant permission for use of its logo. We view it as an unauthorized use of our trademark and have asked it to be stopped,” Ford Motor Co spokesman Jay Cooney told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Louise Egan in Ottawa, and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit- Editing by Janet Guttsman- and Peter Galloway)