An anti-Semitic slur allegedly used by Mayor Rob Ford months ago burst into the mayoral campaign during a debate hosted by a Jewish group, with Doug Ford prompting a chorus of boos as he sought to deflect by citing his Jewish doctor and dentist.
The exchange was the sharpest of the night and started with candidate Ari Goldkind saying that he couldn't stay silent about the "sacred cow."
"I would start on the issue of anti-Semitism by not having a mayor who refers to us, the people in this room, the Jewish people in this room, with a derogatory name that starts with K," he said during a debate hosted by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
"The fact that he insulted my religion, whether it was under the influence or not, we cannot have a mayor like that. Because that is where it starts."
Although Doug Ford ultimately called the remarks "unacceptable," he at first declined to respond directly and tried to establish his links to the Jewish community. It did not go over well.
"You know something, my doctor, my Jewish doctor, my Jewish dentist, my Jewish lawyer, my Jewish … accountant," he said as booing overwhelmed him. "We've known, our family, can you please, please let me finish. Our family has the utmost respect. Let me finish. Please. My family has the utmost respect for the Jewish community. The utmost respect."
Olivia Chow called it "stereotyping" and noted the audience's hostile reaction. "It's not acceptable," she told reporters.
UJA campaign director Steve Shulman said that Mr. Ford had phrased his response "maybe in an inelegant way" but he commended the four candidates for agreeing that there was no place in the city for such bigotry.
Neither Doug Ford nor his brother the mayor, who showed up at the debate, spoke to reporters after the event.
The debate came after sparring earlier in the weekend over Doug Ford's appearance Saturday evening at the start of Nuit Blanche, the overnight arts festival. He was standing in for his brother but the decision drew criticism that he was using the event for campaign purposes.
"I had understood that organizers of Nuit Blanche, which is a city event, wanted it to be a non-political affair and, so, I respected their wishes in that regard," John Tory said earlier Sunday. "I think it's another example where the Fords don't seem to think the rules apply by them, either the formal rules or just the custom that would make sense."
Mr. Ford dismissed the criticism, saying he spoke only briefly and would have been happy to share the stage with Mr. Tory or Ms. Chow.
"It was the furthest thing from campaigning. I was just talking about Nuit Blanche and what a great program it is and I think everyone appreciated my comments there last night," he said.
He also shrugged off Mr. Tory securing another handful of endorsements that included politicians from the Fords' Etobicoke backyard. Among the people coming out for Mr. Tory were politicians from both the Liberal and Conservative parties. They included Peter Milczyn, the former city councillor who endorsed Rob Ford four years ago, and Bernard Trottier – respectively, the provincial and federal politicians in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
"I'm here for the party of the people, and that's the biggest endorsement I could ask for," Mr. Ford said. "I don't have political insiders on my team. I have the common people on my team."
With a report from Jill Mahoney