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Toronto council votes to strip mayor’s powers

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford spoke on the floor of the council chamber in Toronto on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press, via AP

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford spoke on the floor of the council chamber in Toronto on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013.

TORONTO (AP) — Toronto’s City Council has voted overwhelming to strip Mayor Rob Ford of some of his powers in the latest attempt to box in the brash leader who has rebuffed huge pressure to resign over his drinking and drug habits and erratic behavior.

The motion was approved in a 39-3 vote Friday. It suspends Ford’s authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee, which runs the budget process.

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Ford vowed to fight it in court.

The debate followed yet another day of shocking antics from Ford that outraged city councilors, anti-drunk driving advocates and even Toronto’s football team. Most city councilors are frustrated by Ford’s refusal to step aside since he admitted last week to smoking crack, but they lack the authority to force him out of office unless he is convicted of a crime.

In the span of a few hours Thursday, Ford used obscene language to deny that he pressured a female employee for oral sex, admitted that he had driven while drinking and then apologized for his vulgarity and said he was seeking professional help, though he refused to give details.

‘‘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.’’

Ford’s troubles began escalating in May when news reports first surface of a video showing him smoking crack. After month of evading the question, the mayor admitted to having smoked crack when Toronto police announced they had obtained the video during the course of a massive drug investigation that has ensnared a close friend of Ford.

Revelations have rapidly surfaced of other startling behavior, from former aides alleging that the mayor has been frequently drunk on the job, to 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.

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.

The effort will continue Monday when the council moves 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.

At Thursday’s session, many councilors turned their backs on the mayor each time to spoke. An ardent football fan, Ford on Thursday wore a Toronto Argonauts football jersey and cowboy boots, only to draw a protest from the team.

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

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

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.’’

The mayor also 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. Ford denied that allegation.

The court documents 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.

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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Follow Rob Gillies on Twitter at — http://twitter.com/rgilliescanada

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