Rob Ford's ability to lead the country's largest city is again in doubt after his admission that he's returned to drinking and the emergence of two new videos – including one showing an incoherent mayor cursing the chief of police.
After months of turmoil from Mr. Ford's crack-cocaine scandal in May, Toronto City Hall had settled into a new normal, with the mayor's powers divided between Mr. Ford and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. And for weeks, the mayor, who has shed 40 pounds, has insisted that he'd turned a corner, and was front-and-centre during last month's ice storm. But his attempt to put the past scandal behind him was derailed Tuesday, with the emergence of the latest videos.
"Yes, I was," Mr. Ford said, when asked if he'd been drinking. He added a few seconds later, "a little bit, yeah."
The first video shows the mayor using a Jamaican patois and behaving erratically in a fast-food restaurant – has many of his former supporters on council questioning his leadership. Two months ago, council voted to strip away many of Mr. Ford's powers after he admitted to having smoked crack cocaine in a "drunken stupor," and amid a police investigation that alleged a long list of abuses by the mayor, including sexual harassment and drinking and driving.
The second video, released Tuesday night, shows the mayor sitting together at a restaurant with his friend, alleged drug dealer Alessandro Lisi. A copy of Sunday's Toronto Sun sits open on a table, suggesting the video was shot in the past two days. Mr. Lisi is currently facing several criminal charges, including trafficking and possession of marijuana, and extortion related to the crack video.
But it was the first video that raised eyebrows. "I tell you I am shocked," said Councillor Michael Thompson, who called the mayor's "supposedly Jamaican" accent offensive. Describing it as "another episode in the unravelling of Rob Ford," Mr. Thompson questioned whether the mayor is fit to continue in office. "I would submit to you that he is not."
Dressed in what appears to be the same black suit and red tie he'd worn at city hall on Monday, Mr. Ford uses a series of expletives in the first video to describe Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. "Chase me around for five months," he says – an apparent reference to the police investigation that targeted him and Mr. Lisi.
"Leave me alone – they got five months. And then try and tell me, we're counter-surveilling the guy. You know what I mean? He's hiding here, I'm hiding here," Mr. Ford says, gesturing wildly. "You know how much money that cost? I said, bro, just cut something – 'no, no money, man.'"
The city's executive committee is set to debate the city's budget Wednesday – including the Toronto Police Service's more than $1-billion proposed budget. But after the video's release, some councillors suggested that Mr. Ford should recuse himself.
"Given the video, it is clear that he has certain opinions about the chief that might inhibit his capacity to evaluate the police budget," Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said.
Mr. Kelly tried to draw the focus back to city business. "It's a sideshow. It is no longer the main show," he said late Tuesday after a day spent in pre-budget meetings with councillors and city staff that began at 7:30 a.m. Mr. Ford, who arrived at City Hall just after 2 p.m. and left at 4:30 p.m., did not attend any of those meetings, although he was invited to give his imput, Mr. Kelly said.
While Mr. Ford has not asked for his advice, the deputy mayor said it would be the same as in November – take a leave and get help.
But the mayor said the video was shot on "my own time." He didn't say when he'd begun drinking again. Just last week, he snapped at a reporter who asked if he'd taken a drink when he visited a Toronto nightclub, telling her "I don't drink."
"What I do in my personal life and with my personal friends, that's up to me," an unapologetic mayor said Tuesday. "It's my own time. It's with my own friends."
A man named Karim said he was working at the Steak Queen restaurant Monday night when the mayor stopped by for a chicken salad. According to Karim, who would not give his last name, Mr. Ford is a semi-regular customer at the eatery.
Karim, who supports the mayor, wouldn't say who Mr. Ford was with or whether he appeared to be intoxicated.
None of the people around Mr. Ford, including some Jamaican friends, appeared to be offended by his accent, Karim said. "He was just joking around with his buddies ... it's just how people talk here. He feels at home when he's here. It's Rexdale, people love him here."
While he doesn't know who shot the video, Karim said it had to have been a customer.
The mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, seemed unaware when first asked about the videos, claiming that the one showing a rambling Mayor Ford could not have been filmed recently. "I'm sure it's him, but it wasn't yesterday," he said. The mayor's mother and sister appeared in a televised interview in November, calling his behaviour "unacceptable," but insisting that he's "not an addict."
The latest revelations come just weeks after the mayor registered to run for re-election, and his potential rivals are taking note. John Tory, who is rumoured to be considering a run at the mayoralty, tweeted Tuesday "@TOMayorFord should get help. I said this before and saying this again now."
When asked for comment, Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said simply "we don't respond to personal attacks."
- With a report from Bruce Laregina