Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee is preparing to take the extraordinary step of publicly urging Toronto's troubled leader to confront allegations of drug use, and is making contingency plans to run the city in his absence.
Amid an escalating crisis of confidence in the city's leadership, members of Mr. Ford's cabinet-like executive committee are drafting a statement, to be released Friday, attempting to reassure residents of Canada's largest city, deputy mayor Doug Holyday said.
"The letter is really just stating what's already been stated by myself and others throughout the week," Mr. Holyday said in a news conference Friday. "The business of the city will continue as usual. And also, these members that are signing the letter are urging the mayor to come out and make a comment to the media and to the public."
Councillor Gary Crawford, one of 12 councillors who sit on the mayor's executive, said the "open letter" now has support from 4 or 5 members and will be signed by as many members of the committee as possible. But all councillors are concerned for the mayor, he said.
Mr. Crawford has hosted two recent events in his Scarborough riding with Mr. Ford, but said Friday they likely would not happen under the current circumstances. Asked if he is concerned about Mr. Ford representing the city while the drug allegations remain unanswered, Mr. Crawford answered: "No, not necessarily comfortable with that. We need to get to the bottom of this I think, from the city's perspective. It is a concern for all of us."
City Hall was the scene of frenetic activity and closed-door emergency meetings for much of Thursday after the mayor fired his chief of staff, one of his closest allies in the administration. The chief of staff, Mark Towhey, told his boss there was only one way out of a mounting scandal – seek help for your addiction, say two sources close to the administration.
It has not been established that Mr. Ford has an addiction.
Mr. Towhey made the demand as pressure mounted on Mr. Ford to respond to reports of a video showing him smoking crack cocaine, a source said. The plan was to quietly put the mayor on a plane to a rehab centre and issue a statement after he was gone.
Mr. Ford refused, the source said, and on Thursday Mr. Towhey was escorted by security from City Hall.
"He has a problem, he needs to go get help with it," the source said.
Said another source close to the administration: "He has to address it, sooner rather than later," referring to the controversy over the alleged video.
The source said Mr. Ford's agenda has been "crippled" by the current crisis.
The mayor's office did not respond to requests for comment.
It's been a week since news of the alleged video broke, and Mr. Ford dismissed the stories as "ridiculous." Since then the scandal has catapulted the mayor into the international spotlight and made him the butt of jokes on late-night television.
With Mr. Ford ducking out a side door to avoid the cameras once again Thursday, the conviction is growing among many councillors that they need to take action, but they have few options. The Globe and Mail first reported Thursday that the executive committee was drafting the letter.
"Right now I would say it is a train crash. That's the only way to describe it," said Councillor Jaye Robinson, a member of Mr. Ford's executive committee who is drafting the statement. She met with the city clerk this week to run through possible scenarios, but the fact of the matter is only Mr. Ford has the power to decide his fate, she said.
No one can force him to give up his post, or even, as some are suggesting, take a leave.
"We were all for the mayor coming forward," Ms. Robinson said. "Now we are trying to take it into our hands to ensure the city's business moves forward."
Mr. Milczyn said it is important to stress the city is working even if the stories about the mayor continue to be a "distraction."
"It is honestly a fluid situation," he said. "I honestly don't know what headline I'll wake up to tomorrow morning."
Mr. Holyday, who like Ms. Robinson is speaking out in the media with a "business as usual" message, accused some of his colleagues of using the crisis for their own political gain.
"They are just trying to get themselves into the story. It's grandstanding," he said.
Mr. Holyday expressed shock at Mr. Towhey's departure, and said he is still hoping Mr. Ford will come forward and "clear the air." Asked how the mayor will face the mounting crisis now that he has fired his top aide, he responded: "I hope he has another plan."
A surreal atmosphere has settled over city hall as cameras and reporters stake out the hallways outside the mayor's second-floor office from morning until supper time. Mr. Ford, well known for keeping his own counsel, has become more isolated by the day.
On Wednesday, the Toronto Catholic board delivered more bad news, telling Mr. Ford he could no longer coach the Don Bosco Eagles football team and banning him from the board's schools. The move was long expected after Mr. Ford, in an interview, characterized the players as coming from gangs and broken homes. Still, it was devastating to Mr. Ford, who devoted huge amounts of time and energy to the team. "He was shattered," said a source close to the mayor.
Just after the lunch hour on Thursday, the drama went up a notch as Mr. Towhey emerged from Mr. Ford's office, his leather briefcase under his arm and the city's head of security beside him. In city hall's underground parking garage – where running reporters followed him – he paused to face the cameras.
"I am no longer the chief of staff. I did not resign," said the former military captain and consultant, who rarely speaks for attribution.
- With a report from Ann Hui