Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has formally kicked off his re-election bid, unveiling his "Ford More Years" slogan, calling himself the best mayor city has ever had, and dismissing questions about his drug use as personal.
Mr. Ford was the first to file his nomination papers for the 2014 mayoral race on Thursday, telling reporters he was "itching" for the campaign to begin. Mr. Ford's competitors – councillor and TTC chair Karen Stintz and former councillor David Soknacki have announced intentions to run – had not filed as of Thursday afternoon. And a senior organizer on John Tory's campaign said Mr. Tory intends to run, but likely won't register for another six weeks.
"It think, my track record speaks for itself," Mr. Ford said. "We've got the lowest taxes of any major city in North America. We've created jobs. The city is absolutely booming. We're building a subway."
Mr. Ford also lashed out at opponent Ms. Stintz, who has criticized Mr. Ford's leadership after last month's ice storm, which left 300,000 hydro customers across Toronto without power.
"If Karen thinks she can do a better job, I'd like to see her plan and where she was," he said. "I know we were here every day and our actions speak for themselves."
Mr. Ford told reporters he intends to run again on pocketbook issues – focusing on cutting the land-transfer tax and privatizing garbage collection east of Yonge Street.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Ford joked on a U.S. sports radio show about his old "party days" and how "everybody" drinks in public in Toronto ("you just put it in a cup"). He later dismissed questions about drug and alcohol abuse from reporters at City Hall.
"That's all personal," he said. "If they want to get personal, I'm ready for it."
After months of denying reports of illegal drug use, the mayor admitted in November that he has smoked crack-cocaine. This came after a Toronto Police investigation revealed that the mayor's former staffers had concerns about Mr. Ford's drug and alcohol use – including allegations of appearing at City Hall intoxicated – and claims of sexual harassment. None of the allegations have been tested in court.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who is rumoured to also be considering a mayoral run, said drug and alcohol questions are "fair game" to discuss. "Character, integrity and trust are integral aspects to running for political office," he said.
The mayor's brother Councillor Doug Ford, lashed out at reporters Thursday, saying "the people are tired" of such questions. "Everyone makes mistakes in life. Rob made a mistake and has apologized profusely and showed you what he's planning on doing to turn that around."
Doug Ford, the mayor's campaign manager, told reporters Thursday he is not planning on running again for his seat as councillor. In an interview with Newstalk1010, Mayor Ford brought up the possibility of a provincial election soon, and said his brother "could be the next MPP for Etobicoke-North."
Nominations for the 2014 municipal race don't close until Sept. 12 for the Oct. 27 election, but sources said Mr. Ford's early entry would make for a gruelling 10-month race. "It's a long race and it's an expensive race," said the senior adviser to Mr. Tory, who added that this was the reason why Mr. Tory will likely wait another four to six weeks to register.
Mr. Tory has not publicly confirmed that he intends on running, and even if he does, could still change his mind up until the September deadline. NDP MP Olivia Chow is also rumoured to be considering a run at the job, but Ms. Chow has not confirmed whether she will enter the race.
As of Thursday afternoon, 15 candidates had already registered to run for mayor, including Mr. Ford. Councillors who registered to run for re-election include Gord Perks, Joe Mihevc, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Michelle Berardinetti.
Rob Ford told reporters that he welcomes any competitors who enter to run against him, but urged them to stick it out until the end. "I'll go 105 debates. You know what? Let's go 200 debates this time," he said.