Rob Ford began fighting through the courts for his political survival, while many of his allies distanced themselves from the embattled mayor and sized up their chances to take a run at his job.
Mr. Ford, who came to office two years ago with a loose coalition of cost-cutting councillors, is now hard-pressed to find loyal supporters on the council floor. Several councillors who sit on Mr. Ford's executive committee responded with silence Tuesday when asked if they still back the mayor. None has announced they plan to throw their hat into the ring if Mr. Ford loses his court battle and a by-election is called, but many are leaving the door open.
"People are jockeying for position," said Councillor Michael Thompson, a member of the mayor's executive. Mr. Thompson said he has not considered a run, but added it is a possibility.
Toronto Councillor and TTC chair Karen Stintz – whose name has often been mentioned as a potential mayor candidate since she butted heads with Mr. Ford over transit – said "anything becomes possible" when asked if she would run for the top job should the appeal fail.
"If we learn early in January that the appeal has not been successful, I believe we should have a by-election and let the people decide," she said at a transit announcement Wednesday morning. "I think that, with two years left [before the next election]... the city benefits from a mayor with a mandate and there's still lots to do in the city, and so you can't get that done with a caretaker mayor, in my opinion."
She said "the worst thing that can happen" is for the city to stay in limbo, but remained coy about her own plans.
A judge ruled this week that Mr. Ford violated the province's conflict-of-interest rules, and he will be turfed from office in less than two weeks.
His lawyers announced Tuesday they will return to court Dec. 5 in a bid to keep his job temporarily while he appeals the verdict. That appeal is expected to be heard in early January.
The political landscape shifted further Tuesday when the city's top lawyer advised councillors that Mr. Ford would be banned from running for office again until the 2014 general election if his appeal fails. That opinion, which conflicts with the interpretation of Mr. Ford's legal counsel, opens up the field on the right wing of council if Mr. Ford is removed from office and a by-election is called. A by-election without Mr. Ford's name on the ballot is likely to attract councillors from all sides, especially since they are not required to give up their seats to run for mayor.
Also Tuesday, an emotional Mr. Ford said, for the first time, that he was sorry for the council-floor speech that led the judge to conclude he should be fired. "Looking back, maybe I could have expressed myself in a different way," Mr. Ford said. "To everyone who believes I should have done this differently, I sincerely apologize."
The mayor said that while he "respects" the Ontario Superior Court's decision, he did not believe he had a conflict of interest when he spoke and voted at council Feb. 7 to free himself from personally repaying more than $3,000 in improper donations to his football charity.
"I was focused on raising money for underprivileged youth. I never believed there was a conflict of interest because I had nothing to gain and the city had nothing to lose," he said.
The mayor, who often appears flanked by his council allies at major announcements, stood alone at the podium as he addressed reporters.
On Monday, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti made a public show of breaking ranks with the mayor, announcing he had resigned from the executive committee in response to calls and messages from voters.
There were no high-profile defections Tuesday, just tactful answers to questions about Mr. Ford's hold on power.
"I signed on to an agenda, not on to personalities," said Councillor Peter Milczyn, chair of the planning committee. Mr. Thompson voiced a similar sentiment, and even the city's powerful budget chief said Mr. Ford was not his first choice for mayor during the last election.
"Personally I wouldn't stab him in the back," Councillor Mike Del Grande said. "At the time when he was a candidate [for mayor] he was the best of the worst."
"I'm still on side with the agenda," Mr. Del Grande said. As for the mayor himself, "The jury is still out."
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another prominent member of the mayor's executive, remained silent when asked repeatedly Tuesday if he still supports Mr. Ford. He would say only that he supports the mayor's "agenda." Asked if he would run in a by-election, he responded: "In the event that the job would be open, I would consider it."
Nick Kouvalis, Mr. Ford's former chief of staff, warned, "These councillors that are positioning themselves, they should think twice." In a radio interview on AM640, he said Doug Holyday, Mr. Mammoliti and "the rest of the cabal" serve "at the grace of Rob Ford. He appointed them. And it's absolute treachery what they're doing."
There was a surreal atmosphere inside Toronto Council chambers Tuesday as the mayor and his colleagues proceeded with the mundane business of a regularly scheduled meeting. Council dealt with the thorny issue of committee appointments for the second half of Mr. Ford's original term. The most controversial of those appointments – naming budget chief Mr. Del Grande to the police board – squeaked by in a tie vote, a sign, some said, that the mayor's agenda still has the support of council.
With files from Oliver Moore