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November 15, 2013

Toronto councilors look to strip mayor of powers

TORONTO — Toronto’s City Council was introducing a motion Friday to strip Mayor Rob Ford of some of his powers as he insisted he would not resign despite the endless stream of revelations about his drinking and drug habits.

The proposal follows yet another a day of shocking behavior during which Ford denied that he pressured a female employee for oral sex in an obscenity-laced statement on live television. He also threatened to take legal action against former staffers who spoke to police about his drinking and use of drugs.

Ford, who admitted last week to smoking crack, said Thursday he was getting professional help. But he again refused to step down and used a typical mix of contrition and defiance in a series of public appearances.

He later wore a football jersey to a City Council session, where outraged councilors turned their backs each time he spoke and again called on him to step aside.

Later, Councilor Karen Stintz said the city has temporarily suspended all school trips to City Hall because staff deemed them unsafe for the children.

Friday’s motion would suspend Ford’s authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee, which runs the budget process. John Filion, the councilor who introduced that motion, has said the goal is to prevent Ford from firing executive committee members who speak out against him. Councilors are also considering stripping Ford’s authority to set the City Council’s agenda.

On Monday, the City Council will move to strip the mayor of most of his remaining powers. A motion, 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 because the council lacks the authority to force the mayor from office unless he is convicted of a crime.

The conservative Ford, 44, was elected in 2010 on a wave of discontent from Toronto’s outer suburbs over what voters considered wasteful spending and elitist politics at City Hall. But his term has been consumed by revelations of bad behavior, from public drunkenness to crack smoking to threatening to kill someone in a videotaped, incoherent rant.

Ford drew gasps from reporters Thursday morning when he used an obscenity as he denied telling a staffer he wanted to have oral sex.

“I’ve never said that in my life to her, I would never do that,” Ford said on live television.

The father of two school-age children said he is “happily married” and used crude language to say he enjoys enough oral sex at home.

Ford later apologized for his remarks at a news conference. He explained he was pushed “over the line” by newly released court documents that included allegations against him involving cocaine, escorts and prostitution. He called the allegations “100 per cent lies.”

He said his integrity as a father and husband had been attacked, prompting him to “see red.”

“I acted on complete impulse in my remarks,” Ford said.

Ford also said he didn’t want to comment on the particulars of the health care support he’s receiving and asked for privacy for his family.

The mayor said he would take legal action against his former chief of staff, Mark Towhey and two other aides over their interviews with police that were detailed in court documents released Wednesday.

Ford did not specify what the aides might have said that was untrue. He also said he would take action against a waiter who said he believed Ford and a woman were snorting cocaine in a private room at a restaurant.

“I have to take legal action against the waiter who said I was doing lines,” he said. “Outright lies, that is not true.”

The court documents released Wednesday are part of a drug case against Ford’s friend and occasional driver. Police interviews with Ford’s ex-staffers revealed their concerns about his drug use and drunk driving, with one staffer alleging another saw Ford “impaired, driving very fast,” and frightening the female employee who was in the car with him.

In another incident, Ford was described by a former staff member as being “very inebriated, verbally abusive and inappropriate with” a female staff member on St. Patrick’s Day. Another former staffer reported seeing the mayor drunk in his office about 15 to 20 times in the year he worked for him.

Ford acknowledged to reporters that he might have consumed alcohol while driving in the past. But he immediately went on the defense.

“I’m not perfect. Maybe you are but I’m not, OK?” he told journalists. “I know none of you guys have ever had a drink and got behind the wheel.”

An ardent football fan, Ford on Thursday wore a Toronto Argonauts football jersey and cowboy boots, prompting a protest from the team.

“These latest remarks, while wearing our team’s jersey, are particularly disappointing,” the Canadian Football League team said in a statement.

Also on Thursday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the provincial government would be willing to step in and approve legislation to remove the mayor, but only if the City Council voted unanimously to seek that step and the provincial legislature supported it.

City Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong had considered introducing a motion asking the province to intervene but decided against it because of lack of support from councilors who feared setting a dangerous precedent.

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.

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