TORONTO – The embattled mayor of Toronto took firm control of the narrative surrounding crack cocaine use allegations that have plagued him in recent days, vowing Sunday not to let media he described as “maggots” interfere with his running of Canada’s largest city.
Mayor Rob Ford used a weekly radio show to decry his critics, tout his own political record and declare his intention to seek re-election when the city goes to the polls in 2014.
He even lamented the loss of his volunteer high school football coaching job in the midst of the controversy, a development his brother, who joined him on the airwaves, suggested higher political forces may have had a hand in.
The mayor’s tone on Sunday — authoritative and self assured — was markedly different from the anger and avoidance of the press displayed in previous days since reports surfaced of a video which allegedly shows him smoking what appears to be crack cocaine.
“This is all ridiculous. No matter what you say, I’ve found out, to the media, you’re never going to make them happy,” Rob Ford said on NewsTalk1010.
“I’ve addressed these allegations and it’s unfortunate that you get put in this situation, but we’re moving forward.”
Ford — who has faced calls to step down in recent days — added he plans to start campaigning for the next municipal election as soon as legally possible, saying “I’ll be the first one putting my name on that ballot.”
The mayor’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, drove much of the conversation on Sunday’s radio show, lashing out at critics who’ve suggested his family has drawn much negative attention to the city.
Doug Ford found himself under scrutiny as well after a Globe and Mail article on Saturday claimed he dealt hashish in Toronto for several years in the 80s — allegations he has categorically denied.
“I never start a fight, but when someone comes up and punches you in the head 15 times, tries to attack your credibility, your character, try to go after your family’s character…I go swinging back,” he said.
“This is new politics in Toronto and it was driven by some journalism. Journalism in my opinion has sunk to an all time low.”
A turbulent week for Rob Ford included abruptly losing his chief-of-staff — rumours suggest Mark Towhey was fired after he urged the mayor to get help — and seeing his duties as a volunteer coach to a Toronto school brought to an end.
The mayor made it a point to talk about no longer coaching the football team at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, saying “it’s sad” he doesn’t hold the post anymore.
His brother then suggested the decision was influenced beyond the local level.
“There was a lot of politics being played at the highest levels in the province to axe you,” said Doug Ford, who did not immediately respond to an email asking for clarification on his comment.
A spokesman for Kathleen Wynne dismissed any suggestion the Ontario premier was involved in the decision to relieve Ford of his volunteer coaching job
“The Premier did not, nor would she ever, get involved in such a matter. To suggest otherwise would be factually inaccurate,” said Bradley Hammond.
Mayor Ford only stayed for half the two hour show citing a family commitment. He took just a couple phone calls from listeners toward the end of his appearance.
At least one city councillor said Sunday that the mounting controversy surrounding the Ford brothers was beginning to distract from city business and tarnish Toronto’s international reputation.
“It’s affecting the dignity of public office,” said Coun. Jaye Robinson. “The feeling at City Hall is enough is enough.”
Meanwhile, a political science expert suggested the Ford brothers’ strategy to aggressively state their intentions to run in the next election was not surprising.
“It’s 16 months until the next election campaign, that’s a lot of time for people to forget about this and move on to other things,” said Peter Graefe, a professor at McMaster University.
While Rob Ford might lose support among morally conservative supporters and those worried about Toronto’s international reputation, the extent to which the mayor will be hurt by the latest controversy will depend on how closely voters follow the news, Graefe explained.
“If we think the average voter doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention, then this actually might be an effective strategy because you never really get pinned down too much on any allegations, you find a way to turn the page,” he said of how the Fords’ have responded to the allegations against them.
Allegations that the mayor might have been filmed smoking crack cocaine has attracted international media attention and inspired late-night TV jokes.
Two reporters with the Toronto Star and the editor of the U.S. online gossip website Gawker said they viewed a cellphone video of the mayor taken by someone they described as a drug dealer, who was trying to sell the clip.
The video appeared to show Ford smoking what looked like crack cocaine, the publications said.
The footage has not surfaced despite an effort by Gawker to raise $200,000 dollars to purchase it. As of Sunday afternoon Gawker had raised more than $176,000. The Star has reported it cannot verify the authenticity of the video, but has said it stands by its reporting.
Ford remained tight-lipped about the alleged crack cocaine reports for much of the week, breaking his silence only on Friday to say he does not use the drug, nor is he an addict of it.
The mayor has said the entire incident had taken “a great toll” on his family, friends and the people of Toronto.