Rob Ford's chief of staff has denied he was asked to escort the mayor out of a charity dinner because Mr. Ford appeared to be intoxicated, a statement that puts him directly at odds with one of the mayor's council allies who attended the event.
"No one asked the mayor to leave and no one asked me to ask the mayor to leave," Mark Towhey told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday.
A premier event on Toronto's social calendar, the Garrison Ball is attended by cabinet ministers and other politicians, Bay Street financiers and senior military officers. Two very different accounts of that night have emerged: one from Councillor Paul Ainslie, a member of the mayor's cabinet-like executive committee and another from the mayor's chief adviser.
A story about the mayor's alleged alcohol abuse was published in the Toronto Star on Tuesday, which cited anonymous sources who said those closest to the mayor were concerned about his health and ability to run the city.
One of the people directly quoted in the story was Mr. Ainslie, who said he urged Mr. Towhey to escort the mayor from last month's Garrison Ball.
Mr. Ainslie told The Globe on Tuesday he stands by his remarks.
At an event Tuesday morning at City Hall, Mayor Ford angrily denied the allegations, calling the latest controversy to dog his reign "an outright lie."
At the event, the mayor presented a key to the city to former boxer George Chuvalo, a celebration that was overshadowed by the allegations.
Mayor Ford – whom Mr. Chuvalo described as a fighter, just like him – took the opportunity to throw a few verbal punches of his own.
"It's just lies after lies and lies," he said, though he did not discuss any of the specific allegations.
The Globe spoke to more than a dozen people who attended the gala and contacted everyone on its organizing committee, though only a handful returned telephone calls. Six members of the Garrison Ball's 13-person organizing committee released a statement Tuesday, saying none of them asked the mayor to leave.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who was at the gala, said he chatted with Mayor Ford briefly. "He looked fine to me," Mr. MacKay wrote in an e-mail.
Former budget chair Mike Del Grande, who in that post was one of Mayor Ford's most loyal supporters, characterized Mr. Ainslie's comments as "sour grapes" because Mr. Ainslie did not receive the budget chair position he had coveted earlier this year.
Mr. Ainslie disputed that claim. "No sour grapes here," he wrote in a Twitter message.
He would not agree to a phone interview.
Some of Mayor Ford's closest allies were quick to come to his defence.
Deputy mayor Doug Holyday told reporters he has never seen the mayor take a drink, let alone abuse alcohol.
The mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, was notably absent from City Hall on Tuesday. Councillor Ford did, however, appear on radio station AM640, where he said the story had no credibility.
Councillor Joe Mihevc, a left-leaning member of council, said Tuesday it is difficult to talk about personal issues colleagues may face.
"My disagreements with the mayor are purely political and whatever he needs to do to keep his life on the straight and narrow and good we can only wish that for him as we would for any colleague," he said. "This is not a time for me or anyone out there to be making political hay out of this."
Mr. Mihevic said on Wednesday that he has witnessed the mayor in situations where he appears to have been intoxicated.
"I have seen him in situations where it appears that he is not fully there. Yes I have," he told CBC Radio.
Mr. Mihevc said Mr. Ford's angry denial of the allegations on Tuesday was "not accurate. There is something there and I think many of us have been privy to it."
Mr. Mihevc, who later told The Globe that he stands by his remarks, said he hoped to encourage Mr. Ford to seek support.
Though the mayor characterized the story as untrue, Michael Cooke, the Toronto Star's editor, said the newspaper stands by it.
"If we're lying, then it means that the five people in his inner circle who've approached us over the last few months and year, who care about him, who love that guy, are also liars," he said, adding the same holds true for the "four, or five, or six" people who spoke with the newspaper about the gala.
The latest controversy comes less than three weeks after former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson accused the mayor of groping her at a party.
The mayor was ordered removed from office last November in a conflict-of-interest case, though he won an appeal in January. He told reporters at a subsequent news conference that he was looking forward to the rest of his term and then some, promising six more years at the city's helm.
Mr. Chuvalo, speaking at the key-to-the-city event, told reporters Mayor Ford is "kind of like me."
"We both can take it pretty good in the take-a-beating department in one way and in another way we keep punching," he said. "Sometimes Rob takes a bit of a licking sometimes in the papers but he fights right back and he's on top."
With reports from Steven Chase, Colin Freeze, Greg McArthur and Jill Mahoney