Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has lost two more members of his inner circle, press secretary George Christopoulos and his deputy Isaac Ransom, just days after parting ways with his chief of staff.
After Mark Towhey was fired on Thursday, the two staffers responsible for managing his message were quietly packing up their offices on the weekend, sources in the mayor's office told The Globe and Mail.
The same weekend, the mayor of Canada's largest city used his weekly radio show to deny the existence of a video in which he is alleged to be smoking crack cocaine.
Mr. Christopoulos and Mr. Ransom had grown increasingly concerned about the controversy surrounding the mayor, but they decided to call it quits "on principle," said a source close to the mayor's office. The decision followed Mr. Ford's remarks to reporters on Friday, said an individual close to the administration. The mayor broke a week of silence on Friday with a short prepared statement in which he said, "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine," adding, "I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist."
Despite losing three staffers in as many business days and facing new questions on Monday about a report that police had interviewed a staff member, the mayor told reporters, "It is business as usual."
Mr. Ford held an impromptu news conference after the resignations were reported, saying, "We are just soldiering on."
Their departure was sprung upon the mayor in a phone call earlier that day.
Mr. Christopoulos and Mr. Ransom had been seen by reporters in the glass-walled "fishbowl" area that contains the offices of Mr. Ford's staff. But at about noon, they informed the mayor by phone that they were leaving, sources in the mayor's office said. Mr. Ford asked them to wait until he got to the office, a source said, but the two left their letters of resignation on his desk instead. About two hours later, Mr. Ford was seen visiting the staff offices accompanied by the head of security and the city manager, but both men were gone.
Their hasty departure meant they avoided the security escort given to Mr. Towhey last week. He was fired on Thursday after telling Mr. Ford to seek help for an addiction, sources have told The Globe. It has not been established that Mr. Ford has an addiction.
After their departure, there was confusion about who would be the mayor's new press secretary. A statement from the mayor said an existing member of his staff, Sunny Petrujkic, would be "the interim Press Secretary until further notice." Less than an hour later, Mr. Ford said his brother's assistant, Amin Massoudi, was the new "communications director," a title that was later altered to press secretary in a tweet from the mayor's office.
Mr. Ford told reporters Monday that his two press advisers had "decided to go down a different avenue."
Mr. Ford declined to say why they left, but said he never wants to "hold anyone back from moving on for future endeavours or opportunities that they may have."
Asked about the police's questioning of a staff member, he said, "Everything's fine. I have no idea what the police are investigating."
The Globe and Mail reported on Monday that Toronto police interviewed a senior member of Mr. Ford's staff about a tip that had come through the mayor's office that purported to reveal the location of the video and suggested it was linked to a recent homicide.
Greg McLane, head of the homicide squad, confirmed to a local news outlet that two homicide investigators met with a senior Ford staffer about "an ongoing investigation that is currently in the media." But he said it was not related to any recent homicide.
Asked how city councillors see the situation developing, Jaye Robinson, a member of Mr. Ford's executive committee, said, "This is unprecedented."
In response to questions from residents, Ms. Robinson said she has looked "deep into the bylaws" twice and come up with the same answer. "The only person who can determine if the mayor continues is the mayor," she said.
Ms. Robinson said it is worrisome that an office already run with a bare-bones staff has lost three senior members – two of them communications specialists.
But Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, an ally of the mayor, brushed off the latest departures. "We're talking about communications staff," he said. "There are other people who I'm sure can fill the void."
With reports from Patrick White, Jill Mahoney and Kat Sieniuc