Mayor Rob Ford has opened up a new front in his bid for re-election, debuting a show on YouTube that has his opponents on city council warning Toronto's controversial leader cannot be discounted in this fall's battle at the ballot box.
The Ford Nation premiere episode was posted on YouTube on Monday, and includes the mayor's first explanation of why he denied for six months that he had smoked crack cocaine.
With his brother Doug Ford playing the role of questioner, the mayor denies he has "a substance abuse problem," but admits he experimented with drugs.
As for his repeated denials of drug use, the mayor said he was reacting as anybody would in an embarrassing situation.
"Why did I lie? I think everybody in the world has lied," the mayor said in a segment called Rob Ford comes clean. "Because I was embarrassed. I didn't want to tell the truth. That's the only answer I can give. That's as straightforward as I can be. I'm not a drug addict. I don't use drugs. Have I in the past? Yes. And when they asked me it's very, very humiliating in front of the world to say yes and everybody's lied."
Mr. Ford was not at City Hall on Monday. His office said he was on constituency calls.
Councillor John Filion, who spearheaded the successful efforts in November to transfer most of the mayor's authority to the deputy mayor, said Mr. Ford's YouTube performance is evidence that his political potential should not be underestimated.
"He seems to be out ahead of what other people are doing," Mr. Filion said on Monday. "One thing everybody should have learned is: Do not underestimate Rob Ford as an electoral force. People think, 'Oh, he is a big buffoon. He's got no chance of being elected. Don't worry about him.' That's a big mistake."
Councillor Joe Mihevc, another critic of the mayor, said depending on how the vote splits, Mr. Ford could be re-elected.
"Is there a mathematical possibility? Anyone who reads polls would have to say, 'Yes, the mayor is a player in this election,'" said Mr. Mihevc, who also pointed out he and others "are going to do everything in our power to ensure that doesn't happen."
Mr. Ford filed his election papers the first chance he had on Jan. 2, but so far, only one serious contender, former councillor David Soknacki, has joined the race.
Councillor Karen Stintz has announced she plans to run and is expected to enter the race formally in the coming weeks, but two big-name rivals – John Tory and Olivia Chow – have yet to declare their intentions.
Mr. Filion said he thinks giving the mayor a head start is a "terrible strategy."
"Sure, there are people that can beat him, but they have to step forward and they have to run an intelligent campaign," he said.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly warned it is too early in the campaign to draw any conclusions. "I've been through too many elections to form an opinion right up front," he said.
Mr. Mihevc said addressing voters directly online is a clever move by the mayor, and his explanation for lying about his drug use will likely resonate with his core of supporters.