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The Globe and Mail

Ford back in town, delivering Christmas gifts

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford shoots hoops during a tour of Ellesmere Community Centre where food and household supplies are being packaged for families in need in Toronto on December 20, 2012.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

"Ho, ho, ho," the man with the Snoopy-and-Santa Claus necktie said, knocking on the door of the Scarborough apartment.

"Hi, I'm Rob, can we come in?" Mayor Rob Ford asked when the occupants opened.

Toronto's top official was dropping in with a gift of a Christmas hamper, including a bag of potatoes and toiletries that Mr. Ford had lugged himself to the fourth-floor apartment.

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It was Thursday morning, the first day since Mr. Ford's return from an unannounced Florida vacation.

The timing of his absence had raised some eyebrows among his political foes.

It came after a tumultuous autumn that saw him being forced to appeal a judicial decision to remove him from office for conflict of interest in the handling of his football charity.

While he was away, the city's budget committee approved a two per cent property tax increase. Questions were raised about the crumbling Gardiner Expressway, which will need an estimated $505-million in repairs.

Mr. Ford, who landed home Wednesday evening, declined to talk about the future of the Gardiner or other city hall matters, saying he hadn't been briefed yet.

"Let me get up to speed first," he told reporters Thursday.

The morning was devoted instead to the kind of direct interaction with constituents for which he's famous.

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He dropped by Scarborough's Ellesmere community centre, where food donations for the holiday season were being packed.

He posed for photos with volunteers and one man said he was "happy to have a mayor like you."

Steered by councillor Michael Thompson, Mr. Ford toured the centre and briefly shot hoops with three kids, missing several attempts and declaring afterward: "I'll stick to my football."

The mayor sported no tan after his trip, explaining that he's not a beach person. He said he appreciated having some time off because "Oh God, last year I had four days (of vacation)."

He chuckled when a reporter asked if he had missed the media, but declined to say anything about his court appeal, which is to be heard Jan. 7.

Then it was off to a nearby apartment block to deliver some more of the food personally.

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The recipients, a household of five, including a disabled woman who was in hospital, were known to be in need because they attend the same church as the mother of Mr. Ford's press secretary, George Christopoulos.

They were handed boxes of produce, a ham and a turkey – "the whole nine yards," Mr. Ford said.

"It's special for us," said a grateful Maria Kalakos, the recipient of this largesse.

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