TORONTO – After maintaining for months that he is not an addict or an alcoholic, Rob Ford has announced he is seeking help for substance abuse.
His latest pronouncement came after fresh media reports emerged with new drug and alcohol allegations against the embattled mayor.
The mayor said he will take a leave of absence from his re-election campaign and mayoral duties “to seek immediate help,” but gave no other details as to his plans.
He was seen leaving his west-end Toronto home this morning in a two-vehicle convoy but did not respond to reporters’ questions or say where he was going.
The Toronto Sun, which carried quotes from the mayor about his decision to go get help, reported Ford will nonetheless remain on the ballot for the Oct. 27 mayoral election.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who was out for a morning jog as a photo op before today’s presentation of the provincial budget, says the situation with Ford has been a distraction for a long time.
“Rob Ford needs to deal with his personal issues,” she said. “I have been and will continue to deal with deputy mayor (Norm) Kelly.”
The mayor has staunchly refused to step down despite the controversy swirling around him.
“I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence. I have struggled with this for some time,” the mayor said in a statement emailed by his re-election campaign.
“I have tried to deal with these issues by myself over the past year. I know that I need professional help and I am now 100 per cent committed to getting myself right.”
The announcement came as the Sun, the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail reported fresh allegations about the mayor.
The Globe said two of its reporters viewed a new video of Ford smoking what the newspaper said was described as crack cocaine by a self-professed drug dealer. The Globe said the video was secretly filmed in Ford’s sister’s basement early Saturday morning.
The newspaper said the mayor would not comment on the video when approached at city hall Wednesday.
Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke said the newspaper was publishing details of “two nights of utter debauchery” involving Ford at a Toronto nightclub a few weeks ago.
Cooke told news station CP24 that it included an argument with Justin Bieber over the pop idol making fun of Ford — “digging him about, you know, did you bring any crack cocaine etc.”
The Star said it was unable to reach Bieber for comment.
Meanwhile, the Sun reported it obtained an audio recording that it said was of the mayor “being unruly as he’s ordering booze” and making “lewd comments” about his election rival Karen Stintz at a west Toronto bar.
A spokesman for Stintz was quick to express outrage over the alleged comments, calling them “deeply offensive to everyone living in Toronto.”
“That a sitting mayor would make such shocking and bigoted remarks is disgusting,” the spokesman said.
The mayor reportedly told the paper he didn’t remember saying any of the things on the recording but confirmed he was at the bar that night.
Dennis Morris, Ford’s lawyer, would not comment on the allegations that emerged Wednesday evening. “I can’t comment on any of those until I see them,” he said.
Ford’s statement came out late Wednesday — after the news reports in the Sun and the Globe — but it did not address the claims about the new video and audio tapes.
The announcement Ford would seek help is the latest retreat for the embattled mayor, who initially dismissed all allegations of drug or alcohol abuse as a media conspiracy against him.
He has since admitted having used crack cocaine while in a “drunken stupor” during his tenure.
Shortly afterward, city council voted to relieve Ford of many of his mayoral powers.
The mayor also admitted he had been drinking during an incident in which he was filmed using Jamaican swear words and other profanities at a Toronto restaurant.
He vowed last year that he had given up alcohol — part of a campaign to rehabilitate his image in light of his admission.
His family had previously backed up his assertions and his decision not to resign or take an official leave.
Media reports of a cellphone video on which Ford appears to smoke crack cocaine first appeared last May, and sparked a police probe dubbed Project Brazen 2.
But at that time, a guns, gangs and weapons probe called Project Traveller was already well underway. It included wiretaps that allegedly captured conversations about the video.
Police also believe that a widely published photo showing Ford posing with three men — one shot dead shortly after the photo was taken and the other two accused gang members — was taken outside an alleged crack house.
_ With files from Peter Cameron