TORONTO – American-based website Gawker on Monday hit its $200,000 fundraising goal to buy what it says is a cellphone video appearing to show Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
However, whether the site would in fact be able to lay its hands on the video and post it publicly as it has promised to do remained unclear.
Reaching the fundraising target came amid more turmoil in Ford’s inner circle, with his announcement that press secretary George Christopoulos and deputy Isaac Ransom had left their jobs.
The departure of the two key figures came days after Ford’s chief of staff and the beleaguered mayor parted ways. Still, Ford insisted it would be “business as usual” at city hall.
“We’re just soldiering on,” Ford said.
In New York, Gawker editor John Cook — who has not responded to requests to discuss the fundraising campaign — indicated Monday he was having difficulty finding whoever has the video.
“We have had no further contact with the people we believe to have custody of this video since the last update,” Cook said in a posting.
In the previous post from last Thursday, Cook said his confidence in being able to buy the video had “diminished.”
He explained how he had lost all contact with the unnamed owner — a “presumably frightened and skittish” drug dealer — who allegedly videotaped Ford smoking what appears to be crack and making homophobic and racist remarks.
Gawker has promised to donate the money to a Canadian non-profit that deals with substance abuse if the deal were to fall through.
Over the weekend, a combative mayor used his weekly radio show to declare the video did not exist. He also slammed the media for being “a bunch of maggots.”
Sounding contrite on Monday, Ford said he wanted to “sincerely apologize” for the slur.
“It has been bothering me, a lot,” he said of his comments, explaining he was under a lot of stress.
“I understand you have a job to do.”
For the past 10 days, the mayor has been dogged by the allegations he had been videotaped smoking crack cocaine.
The mayor has called the accusations “ridiculous,” but in his one substantive comment to date on Friday, he would only say that he does not smoke crack and is not an addict.
The allegations, also reported by the Toronto Star, have not been independently verified, and the Star has said it cannot vouch for the authenticity of the video.
Neither Chistopoulos nor Ransom offered any immediate explanation for their decision to leave.
Ford would only say the two men had “decided to go down a different avenue.”
Last week, it was announced that Ford’s chief of staff Mark Towhey was longer on staff — reportedly after advising the mayor to get help. Towhey said only that he did not resign.
In a tweet following word of the latest resignations Monday, Towhey called Christopoulos and Ransom “outstanding, honest and honourable professionals.”
Ford also said he “had no idea what the police were investigating” when asked about police interviewing staff in his office after an aide told them a caller claimed to know where the video was.
A Star reporter on Monday told a radio show that the newspaper, like Gawker, had lost contact with the video owner but was doing what it could to obtain a copy.
Robyn Doolittle also said she believes there are at least one or two other copies of the video out there.
Ford’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, who had also joined in the weekend media attack, also sounded more conciliatory on Monday.
Ford said his brother’s executive assistant, Amin Massoudi, would become his new communications director.