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Jeff Silverstein, spokesman for Rob Ford, says the ex-mayor didn’t want to quit the race.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Rob Ford made his final decision to drop out of the mayoral race just three hours before the deadline – and after pressure from both his family and doctors to withdraw, his former spokesman says.

In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Ford's former campaign spokesman Jeff Silverstein offers a glimpse into how Mr. Ford's inner circle reacted to the sudden news of his hospitalization – including how the former mayor resisted urging from family and doctors to leave the race until the final moments.

"It took no more than an hour between the initial call – 'I'm on my way to Humber Valley' – to 'I've just had an MRI at Humber Valley and I've just been told that I have a tumour in my stomach,'" Mr. Silverstein recalled of hearing from Mr. Ford that he'd been admitted to hospital.

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Mr. Silverstein had only begun working for Mr. Ford a few months earlier, while the controversial mayor was on a leave of absence at rehab for substance abuse.

This followed a troubling year for Mr. Ford, in which he'd been plagued by repeated allegations of drug and alcohol abuse, and stripped by council of most of his powers as chief magistrate.

But after Mr. Ford returned to City Hall and the campaign trail in late summer, he appeared to have turned a new leaf. His campaign was gaining momentum.

That's when he found out about the tumour.

"It was like a bomb, really," Mr. Silverstein said. "We really knew that his life had changed in an instant, and that the entire race and campaign had changed."

Although Mr. Ford's family and doctors immediately feared the worst – "I think whenever you hear the word 'tumour' you immediately think of cancer," Mr. Silverstein said – the former mayor still wanted to continue to campaign from his hospital bed.

It took "a couple of visits" with his doctor, as well as with members of his family, before he finally changed his mind.

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"It was very much a case of the doctor and those close to him convincing him that it just wasn't going to be an option," he said.

They finally persuaded Mr. Ford the night before the Sept. 12 deadline to withdraw – and for brother Doug to run in his place.

But the mayor changed his mind again the next morning, Mr. Silverstein said, and the family had to convince him all over again.

"You have to bear in mind that this is a guy who had been through hell and back, really, and refused to step down," he said.

"He really felt that his life – that he had turned a corner in his life, that he was dealing with his personal demons, and that he was on his way to a second term," he said.

"He really didn't want to give up."

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At 11 a.m. – just three hours before the 2 p.m. deadline – Doug, mother Diane, staffer Amin Massoudi and Mr. Silverstein – told Mr. Ford he was running out of time. "We realized … that if we were going to do this, we had to kind of pull the trigger."

Mr. Ford agreed to drop out and run as a councillor. Mr. Silverstein would instead serve as spokesman on Doug Ford's mayoral campaign.

"For it all to be snatched away from us like that seemed really very cruel," he said.

"To see the mayor going through what he had gone through, and knowing just how difficult it was going to be for him, made it that much more difficult for all of us to watch."

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