Toronto’s embattled Mayor Rob Ford is taking a break from his job and re-election campaign to address what he calls a “problem with alcohol.”
The announcement Wednesday comes amid a new wave of allegations facing the mayor – including the existence of a second drug video revealed by The Globe and Mail, and reports that he was again caught on tape using offensive language to describe a rival.
It also follows a year of police and drug scandals involving the mayor that has seen him stripped of most of his powers by council and has thrust the leadership of Canada’s largest city onto the international stage.
The move threatens to put city business on the back-burner as all eyes turn once again to the mayor.
In a statement late Wednesday evening, Mr. Ford said he was seeking treatment. “It’s not easy to be vulnerable and this is one of the most difficult times in my life,” the mayor said. “I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence. I have struggled with this for some time.”
He said that he had tried to deal with his problems himself before eventually realizing he needed professional help.
“I love the people of Toronto, I love being your mayor and I hope you will continue to stand by me,” Mr. Ford said. “With the support of my family, friends, professionals and the people of Toronto, I will conquer this.”
The mayor’s criminal lawyer and long-time family friend, Dennis Morris, said he is not sure how long the mayor plans to take off, saying only, “I think the way it works is how long is necessary.”
Mr. Morris said he did not know when the mayor came to his decision, but the mayor made no mention of it Wednesday afternoon when he spoke with reporters about his subway plans and joked about the night’s Toronto Raptors game.
Later Wednesday, The Globe and Mail revealed the existence of a second video of the mayor again smoking what is described as crack cocaine by a self-professed drug dealer. That video, viewed by two Globe and Mail reporters, was filmed early Saturday morning. Also on Wednesday, the Toronto Sun said it had obtained a separate recording of the mayor in a bar allegedly making sexual remarks about rival candidate Karen Stintz. “The comments released tonight by Mayor Rob Ford are deeply offensive to everyone living in Toronto. That a sitting mayor would make such shocking and bigoted remarks is disgusting,” a statement released by Ms. Stintz’s campaign said.
The mayor has been plagued by drug allegations since May of last year, when reports first surfaced about a video that shows him smoking crack cocaine. After that, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair revealed that the mayor is the subject of a continuing police investigation, and that police had obtained a copy of the crack video.
Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash said late Wednesday that Project Brazen 2, the investigations into the mayor, is still “ongoing,” but would not discuss details.
Speaking about the latest video, Mr. Pugash added “investigators would be interested in looking at this material so that they can investigate, consult, and decide what the next step might be.”
The mayor’s announcement once again puts leadership at Toronto’s City Hall in question. A spokeswoman for the city said that, under the City of Toronto Act, power would transfer from the mayor to the deputy mayor, but Mr. Ford had yet to confirmed that he was taking a leave as of Wednesday evening.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly was given most of the powers of the mayor’s office by council in November as a result of the allegations. Reached late Wednesday evening, a spokesman for Mr. Kelly said there had been no confirmation from city staff, the mayor or his office about the leave of absence. Two of Mr. Ford’s rivals, John Tory and David Soknacki, are calling on the mayor to resign.
Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, who was with the mayor when he caused a ruckus last month at a Maple Leafs game, said he was concerned about Mr. Ford after that night, which ended with Mr. Ford leaving his budget chief on the street and later going a night club.
“I can’t say that I am completely surprised,” Mr. Di Giorgio said Wednesday night. “I’m happy that he has decided to handle this problem head-on. It seems like things that things have gotten progressively worse.”
Mr. Di Giorgio said it is too soon to say whether the mayor’s political career can rebound. “A lot depends on how bad the situation is and how long he takes,” he said.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former ally of the mayor who has been critical of his use of drugs and associations with gang members, said he is happy the mayor has taken this step.
“Any individual who has substance abuse problems needs to get help,” Mr. Minnan-Wong said. “The fact that Rob ford has admitted he has a substance abuse problem is a step forward for him and his family.” Mr. Minnan-Wong said he was not prepared to comment on the effect it will have on the political landscape at this time.
The mayor initially denied the May, 2013, reports about a video that shows him smoking crack cocaine. After he eventually admitted months later to having smoked crack cocaine once, “in a drunken stupor,” he still refused calls to step down or seek professional help, claiming he was not an addict.
The reports also prompted the mayor to publicly vow to quit drinking, after a “come to Jesus moment.” But a few months later, he admitted to drinking again, telling reporters it was “personal.”
Last May, the mayor fired his former chief of staff Mark Towhey after he told Mr. Ford he needed to get help for his personal problems with substance abuse. “Good for him,” Mr. Towhey tweeted Wednesday evening. “Wish he’d done it sooner. Life would have been a lot easier for so many. So much opportunity squandered.”