Video recap: Today in the life of Rob and Doug Ford

The latest on the Fords and the circus-like twist in the Toronto election campaign

TORONTO – A period of decidedly unCanadian scandal marked by outrageous, offensive, bizarre and frequently entertaining conduct took yet another circus-like twist Friday when an ailing Rob Ford ended his bid for re-election as mayor, opting instead to run for city council.

Voters, however, will still be able to choose a Ford to lead the country’s largest city as his councillor-brother, Doug, entered the mayoral race in his stead.

With a crush of reporters and photographers straining to keep up with the developments, a representative filed papers to take the mayor off the ballot for next month’s vote just ahead of the deadline to do so.

“People know me as a guy who faces things head on and never gives up,” Ford said in a statement issued a short while later.

“Now I could be facing a battle of my lifetime, and I want the people of Toronto to know that I intend to face this challenge head on.”

In his statement, Ford said his older sibling had been by his side from the start and shared his vision for the city.

“I have asked Doug to run to become the next mayor of Toronto, because we need him,” Ford’s statement said. “We cannot go backwards.”

Doug Ford, 49, had little to say as he registered.

But in an emotional speech outside his mother’s west Toronto home Friday evening, he vowed to carry on his brother’s legacy.

“(Rob) told me that he needed me to take the torch while he focused on getting better,” the councillor said, his voice breaking at times.

“I realized that yes, I want to honour Rob’s request, but it’s also important to me that we continue the work that we have started. I want to continue to serve this great city and you fine folks.”

He asked for a few days to spend time with his family before hitting the campaign trail in full force next week.

The pugnacious and often abrasive councillor, the mayor’s staunchest defender and closest adviser, has himself clashed with the city’s chief of police, and frequently claimed an ongoing drug-and-gang investigation of his younger brother was politically motivated.

Although he has been less scandal-prone, the councillor once referred to the mayor’s wife as a “Polack” and engaged in a war of words with renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood over plans to close libraries in the city.

“I don’t even know her,” he said. “If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.”

Ryerson politics professor, Myer Siemiatycki, said voters who loved the folksy younger brother might have a hard time warming to someone who appears to be “harder around the edges.”

“One of the real strengths of Rob Ford obviously was his ability to connect with people,” Siemiatycki said. “He had a warm, fuzzy kind of dimension to him in terms of his outreach and connection with people.”

Ford, who said his heart was heavy at having to end his mayoral bid to focus on his health, said he would instead run in his west-end ward, where his nephew Michael Ford had been a registered candidate before withdrawing.

The dizzying round of political musical chairs followed two days of medical drama involving Ford, 45, whose admissions of crack-cocaine use, binge drinking and profanities have made him a household name across much of North America and recognizable around the world.

Ford had been admitted to hospital on Wednesday and doctors discovered a “fair sized” tumour in his abdomen.

After transferring him to a downtown hospital on Thursday, they did a biopsy and said it would be about a week before they knew whether the tumour was cancerous. There was no further word on Ford’s condition Friday.

Discovery of the tumour came just over two months after Ford returned to office from a stint in rehab that followed a scandal-plagued year in which he was forced to admit to using crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor,” was caught on video and audio recordings in profanity-laced rants, and became the target of a police investigation.

His litany of woes, gaffes and outrageous conduct also made him an international celebrity and the latest developments garnered media coverage around the globe.

The larger-than-life mayor — elected in 2010 on the strength of his cri-de-coeur of “it’s time to stop the gravy train” — had continued to campaign for re-election even as he trailed in polls for the Oct. 27 vote but nonetheless remained a viable candidate.

Ultimately, however, faced with the possibility of a cancer diagnosis and a long treatment regimen, Ford said he was stepping aside, hoping his so-called Ford Nation of die-hard followers will rally behind his brother.

Gail Chernesky, who worked on the mayor’s campaign before signing on with Doug Ford, said it’s “very likely” that more people will vote for the less scandal-plagued older brother.

“I know it was a very difficult decision for Doug, but I felt very lost knowing Rob dropped out and a ton of bricks was off my shoulders — somebody’s going to carry the torch, someone’s going to continue the platform for the electorate, respect for their taxes,” she said.

Social media erupted at the news Rob Ford was out of the mayoral race, sparking gleeful reaction along with expressions of regret.

“Man, I actually feel so bad for Rob Ford,” one person tweeted.

“I was really looking forward to watching Rob Ford be defeated by a democratic vote,” another tweeted. “Sadly, our city will now be deprived of that moment.”

While mayoral candidate Olivia Chow refused to comment on the latest twist, her rival John Tory — polling as front-runner — was less reticent.

“I don’t think Doug Ford offers Toronto more of the same,” Tory said. “In fact, he may offer Toronto something that is worse.”