TORONTO — Toronto’s embattled mayor rejected the advice of City Council allies on Wednesday to take a temporary leave of absence, returning to work a day after acknowledging he had smoked crack.
Deepening the crisis, Rob Ford’s long-time policy adviser resigned, continuing an exodus that started in May when news reports emerged of a video showing the mayor smoking what appears to be crack. Police announced last week they had a copy of the video, which has not been released publicly.
After months of evading the question, Ford acknowledged Tuesday that he smoked crack “probably a year ago” when he was in a “drunken stupor.” But he has refused to step aside despite immense pressure.
Ford arrived at City Hall just past noon on Wednesday but took a back stairway to his office to avoid a crush of media.
The mayor later blew a kiss to the media as he gave a tour of his office to school children.
More than 200 people protested outside City Hall.
“Hey hey! Ho ho! Rob Ford has got to go!” they chanted.
‘He needs to take some time off and get the help he needs.’
Councilor James Pasternak said the controversy consuming Canada’s largest city cannot go on. He said several city councilors asked Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly to approach Ford and “orchestrate a dignified exit.”
Kelly met with Ford and suggested he take a temporary leave until later this year or early next year, but Ford rejected that idea. Councilor Frances Nunziata, also a Ford ally, said they are all frustrated Ford will not step aside temporarily.
“There’s nothing we can do. He’s the only one who can make the decision,” Nunziata said. “He needs to take some time off and get the help he needs.”
Kelly earlier said Ford did not tell anyone he would admit to smoking crack.
“It came right out of the blue,” said Kelly, who learned about it from a member of Ford’s staff.
There is no clear path for critics to force Ford out. Municipal law makes no provision for the mayor’s forced removal unless he is convicted and jailed for a criminal offense. Ford has not been charged.
“He has stubbornly refused to listen to everyone across the city to step down,” Councilor Janet Davis said.
Nelson Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto, said the province of Ontario could conceivably step in and put Toronto under trusteeship because municipalities are under provincial jurisdiction. He said the chances of that happening are “slim to none,” though it might be possible if Ford is charged with a crime and city councilors plead for Ford to step aside in a motion.
Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario has said she is concerned that Ford’s personal issues make it hard for the city to carry on normally. But she said it was up to police, the courts, or the mayor to take action.
Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of Ford’s executive committee, is putting forward a motion that would ask Ford to take a leave of absence.
Another councilor is putting forward a motion that could strip some of his powers.
“The right thing to do is for council to take a clear position,” Minnan-Wong said. “I remain concerned that there’s more information that’s going to come out. I’m troubled by that and that it will hurt this city even further.”
Voters may have the final word on Ford’s future. He has said he plans to run in the October 2014 mayoral election.
Police said they obtained the video in the course of a drug investigation into Ford’s friend and occasional driver, Alexander Lisi. The mayor has called on police to release the video.