Sixty days after Rob Ford took a leave from city hall under the pall of fresh drug allegations, Toronto's controversial leader marched back into the spotlight, his voice catching as he acknowledged the damage his alcohol and drug use has done and pledging an "unwavering" commitment to "clean living" and a change in the company he keeps.
"When I look back on some of the things I have said and some of the things I did when I was using, I am ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated," Mr. Ford said. "I was wrong and I have no one , but no one, to blame but myself."
In a carefully orchestrated news conference limited to about dozen media outlets, a calm and decidedly slimmer Mr. Ford stood alone behind a lectern as he described "some of the darkest moments in my life," and praised the treatment he said "saved my life."
Mr. Ford opened up for the first time about his problems not just with alcohol, but with drugs, conceding for "a long, long time" he resisted getting help and was "in complete denial."
After about 10 minutes of confession and contrition, Mr. Ford transitioned into his campaign speech.
Mr. Ford listed off the accomplishments of his administration, the city's "booming economy," budget savings and labour deals. Then he sipped his water, folded his notes and left, ignoring the many questions from reporters.
Mr. Ford is fighting not only his "personal demons," but for his political life. With four months left before election day, his return marks the opening salvo in a comeback effort that hinges on the forgiveness of voters and Mr. Ford's ability to keep his vices – documented in several videos and in unproven allegations collected by Toronto police – in check.
After months of denial, Mr. Ford admitted last November he smoked crack cocaine in a "drunken stupor," but insisted then he was not addicted. Before he left two months ago for rehab, The Globe reported Mr. Ford had been filmed on a new video smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. He also was caught on tape in a racist rant that included lewd remarks about one of his opponents for mayor, Karen Stintz. And while in the GreeneStone treatment centre in Muskoka, his car was impounded after the woman he lent it to was charged with impaired driving.
Mr. Ford apologized to Ms. Stintz for his "hurtful and degrading remarks."
Ms. Stintz rejected his effort. "If the mayor wants to apologize to me, he's got my number and he can call," she said in a statement. "It's a private matter for him to discuss with me directly."
Mr. Ford failed to explain how his car came to be driven down a cottage highway by a woman who boasted she met the mayor in treatment. He did not specifically address his other racist and homophobic remarks or his association with alleged gang members or reports that he used his office to lobby for clients of his family's firm.
Mr. Ford said his treatment taught him about triggers and cravings and made him realize some of his personal relationships would have to end.
"I now realize that I was blind to the dangers of some of the company I kept and those associations have ended," he said.
Along with Mr. Ford's return, came the familiar crush of media and curious onlookers outside his office. New yellow caution tape was put up and about half a dozen security guards stood by.
Mr. Ford announced last week he would open his door to any councillors who wanted to drop by, but on a day sandwiched between a weekend and Canada Day, only a handful were at City Hall and there were few takers.
Moments after the mayor spoke, mayoral candidate John Tory addressed reporters outside City Hall, acknowledging Mr. Ford's personal struggles before repeating his call for him to resign. "There are so many questions that are unanswered from the media, from the police and, I think, from the public," Mr. Tory said. "I think we need answers to those questions before we will really know what has happened in the last number of months and what is going to happen going forward."
Half a block away, fellow candidate Olivia Chow stopped short of suggesting the mayor step aside but said she was disappointed the mayor did not give an apology for specific remarks he is alleged to have made about ethnic minorities. Ms. Chow also said his personal problems are not what voters need to judge him on.
"The question is not whether Rob Ford is clean and sober. The issue is that he is a failed mayor," she said. "His policy has failed the people of this city. … That's why we need a new mayor."
Councillor John Filion said there always is a chance Mr. Ford will pull off his comeback. "I made the mistake of counting him out four years ago," he said. "I won't do that again."