Rob Ford’s attempt to put the latest video controversy behind him with a campaign speech to a Bay Street crowd was overshadowed when a stalled elevator caused him to keep the business audience waiting for close to an hour.
Tempers were short Thursday when Toronto’s often tardy mayor arrived in the basement banquet room of a downtown hotel just before 1 p.m. for a noontime address. One table, anxious to get back to work, had already left en masse. After the remaining 180 or so in attendance had cleaned out the bread baskets, organizers served lunch without the mayor.
When Mr. Ford made his entrance through a back door, rather than the escalator used by others in attendance, his spokesman explained he had been stuck in a service elevator with no cellphone reception. Mr. Ford’s push for re-election was front and centre when he finally began talking, running through a list of his accomplishments, such as paring back city spending and getting labour peace. There was no mention of the two videos that surfaced earlier this week: one in which an incoherent Mr. Ford curses the police chief in a Jamaican accent and another that shows him meeting with Alessandro Lisi, a friend who is facing criminal charges including extortion related to a video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack.
The president of the Economic Club of Canada, Rhiannon Traill, later confirmed she was trapped in the elevator with five or six others, including Mr. Ford. “It was unfortunate, but he was very gracious about it,” she said. “We talked about how he’s doing, and how he’s preparing for his campaign.”
Mr. Ford, who conceded earlier this week he had been drinking Monday night when he was captured on camera at a fast-food restaurant, did not discuss any of his personal issues, including his efforts to lose weight, his past promises to stop drinking and his continued refusal to co-operate with police in the investigation that led to Mr. Lisi’s arrest. On Wednesday, he characterized the videos and his fall off the wagon as a “minor setback.”
“Who do you trust with your hard-earned tax dollars?” the mayor said in his speech. “You trusted me. You trusted me to put your hard-earned dollar where it needs to go and I am so proud to say that is exactly what my administration has done.”
Mr. Ford, stripped of most of his authority by council in November after admitting he smoked crack cocaine, criticized the proposed 2014 budget – mostly for increasing revenue forecasts for the land transfer tax as a way to limit tax increases and fund program enhancements. He accused his executive committee of playing a "shell game" with budget numbers. But he also took credit for the savings it contains.
Earlier Thursday, Councillor Doug Ford also went on the offensive, saying in a radio interview he’d take his brother, the mayor, “any day, watching the taxpayers’ money on his worst day – worst night – than all of the council combined on its best night.”
In response, Councillor David Shiner, a member of the mayor’s executive, said he is “fed up” with the rhetoric. “I’ve been here far too long to have this council disparaged in the way it is now by the mayor and by his brother,” he said. “We care about what we do, we work hard for the taxpayers, we’re here every day doing that. And it’s time that the taxpayers – and the council – be shown some respect by Mayor Ford and his brother.”
Councillor John Parker said he’s frustrated that controversy surrounding the mayor keeps distracting attention from city business. “I’ve had about enough of people saying things, others demanding an apology, then an apology given somewhat disingenuously – and then we repeat the exercise all over again,” he said.
Asked whether he believes anything Mr. Ford says, he responded: “I believe that Rob Ford believes everything he says, when he says it.” But, he added, “whether he is good at sticking to what he says is another matter.”