Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has fired his chief of staff and one of his closest advisers, Mark Towhey. Mr. Towhey, who has filled the top post in the mayor's office for more than a year and worked in Mr. Ford's office since he became mayor, was escorted out of city hall by security carrying only his brief case just before 2 p.m. Thursday.
Mr. Towhey addressed reporters briefly, saying he had just spoken with the mayor.
"I am no longer the chief of staff. I did not resign," he said.
Asked what Mr. Ford should do about allegations that he was caught smoking crack cocaine on a video, Mr. Towhey said. "I have given the mayor my advice. He can choose to take it or not take it." Asked what it was, he said. "My advice is for him and him alone."
Mr. Towhey said his departure did not come as a shock and the news was delivered personally by Mr. Ford. "The mayor and I spoke about it this afternoon," he said.
Mr. Towhey worked beside the mayor on the campaign trail as an adviser and was frequently seen at his side at city council quarterbacking votes. He helped to develop Mr. Ford's economic platform.
His departure comes as Mr. Ford continues to dodge reporters and ignore pleas from councillors and civic leaders to address the drug allegations. Councillor Doug Ford briefly addressed reporters outside the mayor's office at city hall while his brother sneaked out another exit.
Doug Ford said he could not comment on Mr. Towhey's departure but called him "a good guy."
"I just wish him all the best and that's it," he said.
When asked if Mr. Towhey was let go in connection with the drug accusations the mayor is facing he responded, "no not at all."
On Wednesday, Mr. Ford received more bad news, with a decision that he is no longer coach of the Don Bosco football team and is banned from coaching by the Toronto Catholic board.
Doug said that Rob is committed to continuing to support the team through his football foundation.
A statement released by the mayor's office about an hour after Mr. Towhey's dramatic departure did not provide a reason for Mr. Ford's decision to part ways with his senior staff member. "Effective immediately, Mark Towhey is no longer working in the Office of the Mayor," it read.
Councillor Jaye Robinson, a member of the mayor's executive committee said she found out about the dismissal shortly before it happened and has been told it involves football, rather than the handling of the controversy over the alleged video.
"I don't have all the details, but my understanding is it's something related to football and I'll leave it at that," she said.
Mr. Ford has often been criticized for the amount of time he devotes to his coaching duties – a role he feels passionate about.
Ms. Robinson said Mr. Towhey's leaving raises more concerns about leadership in what has always been a bare-bones operation in the mayor's office.
She also voiced concerns about the Ford administration.
"Right now, I would say it is a train crash. That's the only way to describe it," she said. "It's just one thing after the next. It's not even daily any more it's hourly. It's becoming more and more disruptive."
Ms. Robinson, a long-time employee of the city before running for council, said her understanding is that Mr. Towhey was fired. The city manager joined the mayor in Mr. Ford's office to deliver the news. "Traditionally, when that happens, it's a firing. Also, he was escorted out of city hall by security. Unfortunately, when there is a firing, that's how it is executed," she said.
Ms. Robinson said the dismissal is "ill-timed."
"I don't think it is a very strategic move at this time when there is such upheaval in the mayor's office to fire your chief of staff. I think it is very unfortunate. I'm shocked right now, "she said.
Asked about Mr. Ford's leadership and her role on the mayor's executive, she said, "I am definitely losing confidence, but I do feel it's a time for leadership and abandoning the ship, which is Toronto not the mayor, is not something that I plan to do."
Standing at the door of city hall's parking garage with the head of security at his side Mr. Towhey praised members of his staff. "It has been and honour and a privilege working with the staff in the mayor's office. They are outstanding professionals and I hope to work with them again sometime."
It was not the first tumultuous departure from the mayor's office under Mr. Ford. In January, 2011, weeks after he took office, his long-time staffer Andrew Pask left the office after a verbal dispute with Nick Kouvalis, his outgoing chief of staff.
Mr. Kouvalis, who held the post when Mr. Ford moved into the mayor's office, worked closely with Mr. Towhey during the campaign and at city hall. "Mark's a great guy. Really smart and I really enjoyed working with him," he said. " He's always been loyal to the candidate and the mayor."
Mr. Kouvalis described Mr. Towhey as his senior adviser and "the guy I would bounce things off of and I have a lot of respect for him."
He was always ready to "get down to brass tacks," he said, but added "We all serve at the prerogative of the mayor."
Earl Provost, Deputy Chief of Staff, has been appointed as the acting chief of staff.