DRUG ALLEGATIONS

Rob Ford keeps low profile amid crack video ‘sideshow’

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford attends the flag-raising ceremony marking the start of Pride Week, the day after substance allegations against him were reported by the Toronto Star. Toronto May 17 2013. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

In the days after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was accused of smoking crack cocaine in a homemade video, a cone of silence has descended around the embattled chief magistrate. Save for a brusque dismissal from the mayor Friday and a denial from his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, on Saturday, he has stayed out of the public eye.

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Mr. Ford cancelled his Sunday radio show, his spokesman did not return repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment and neither the mayor nor those close to him have responded in any detail to the sensational allegations. No one answered the door at his home Sunday afternoon.

But in the city’s political circles, Mr. Ford’s travails have been virtually the only topic of conversation since the story broke Thursday night.

Both the mayor’s enemies and allies agree the matter transcends politics – the term “sideshow” is frequently used – and that he may never overcome it. While Mr. Ford could blame many previous problems, such as the defeat of his transit plan or a conflict-of-interest court case last year, on his political opponents, this time is different, they say.

Councillor Josh Matlow, a centrist who has frequently opposed the mayor’s agenda, called on Mr. Ford to address the allegations head-on.

“I think the sooner the accusations are addressed, the sooner we can move forward as a city,” Mr. Matlow said Sunday. “What would be very helpful, as a start, would be if the mayor would be more open about his take on the story and offer his perspective. That hasn’t happened yet.”

And Mr. Ford’s lawyer said Sunday it wasn’t going to happen unless the alleged video is made public.

“I don’t think this case is going to go forward any further until that video is brought forth, if there is such a video,” said Dennis Morris. “Without the video, there’s a huge question mark, but with the video, people can make their own judgments.”

Until then, Mr. Ford’s brief statement Friday – in which he called the allegations “ridiculous” – and his brother’s comment to Newstalk 1010 Saturday that he had never seen the mayor “involved with anything like coke,” will have to stand.

Even conservative insiders, however, argued that he must take charge if he hopes to save his political career and mount a credible re-election campaign next year.

Jason Lietaer, a seasoned public-relations expert and long-time Tory, said Mr. Ford’s best move would be to energize his base and return attention to his politics by setting out a focused policy program and moving it forward.

“You need to come in with an agenda, something supporters can see results on, and tick the boxes off,” he said.

Another provincial conservative commented: “If he has a problem, he should take care of it and resign. If he doesn’t, he should fight back with all he has. Fast.”

Other Tories believe that, whether the accusations against Mr. Ford are true or not, they may be too great a distraction for him to overcome.

Mr. Ford is widely said to be extremely difficult to control, ignoring his aides’ advice to an extent not usually seen with even the most flamboyant of politicians. And even conservatives say he has trouble fostering the sort of public goodwill and likeability needed to ride out a scandal as salacious as the current one.

Much, of course, depends on the video. As of Sunday evening, American gossip website Gawker had raised more than $70,000 toward the $200,000 they say the video’s owners want for it.

One Gawker editor and two Toronto Star reporters have said they have viewed the video. Both media outlets said they were told it was filmed within the past six months by people who claimed to have sold crack cocaine to Mr. Ford. In the video, they wrote, he is seen lighting up what appears to be a crack pipe.

It is not yet clear whether the issue will be debated at council.

Mr. Matlow said that it is possible to add such a discussion to the agenda of the special council meeting scheduled for Tuesday to debate downtown casino plans, but he doesn’t see a “reasonable possibility” it will be brought up.

With a report from Adam Radwanski