As Rob Ford prepares to lead dozens of business and political leaders to Chicago, the embattled Toronto mayor returned to the airwaves Sunday hoping to tackle the football coaching controversy that has been dogging him since last week.
City hall officials confirmed Sunday that Barclays Capital Canada chairman Michael Wilson, former Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, TMX CEO Thomas Kloet and Enwave chairman Paul Brown will be among some 60 delegates accompanying Mr. Ford to the Windy City in an effort to strengthen business and trade ties.
In addition to plugging the Team Toronto Business Mission on their radio show, which had been on hiatus, Mr. Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, also delivered the "fireworks" they had promised. They launched attacks against critics of the mayor over coaching youth football during working hours, sometimes with city staff in tow. They railed against media they see as overly negative, dismissing their harshest critics as "lefties," "elitists" and "cocktail socialists." And Mr. Ford was defiant, promising to keep up his coaching.
"I'm not going anywhere, folks," he said. "I'm going to continue coaching football, and if I don't get re-elected for helping out kids, you know what, I feel sorry for this city, I really do."
A Globe and Mail report last week questioned the mayor's apparent use of city resources to help fund his volunteering. He appears to have relied on at least two of his employees and their taxpayer-funded cellphones to administer summer football teams he founded since taking office.
In addition, Andrew Gillis, a special assistant to Mr. Ford and a former University of Toronto quarterback, was spotted last week helping out at a 3:30 p.m. practice for the Don Bosco Eagles, an Etobicoke high-school team the mayor leads. Jude MacDonald, a Toronto resident, has filed a complaint with the city's integrity commissioner.
The Fords denied the mayor had used office resources to further his coaching efforts, defending his staff as devoted volunteers giving their own time on top of a full week's work.
"I think everyone knows, my staff works 60 hours [per week]. It's ridiculous. They go to events with me, they go to parades with me, they do everything," Mr. Ford said. "Come and talk to me. … Don't go and slam my staff when you know they can't defend themselves."
When a caller to the show noted the mayor has built his reputation on fighting against "wasteful use of office expenses," and asked "how you square that with the fact that you've been using your office resources and people … " Councillor Ford cut him off.
"No we haven't, that's a lie," an animated Doug Ford replied. "Sir, do me a favour. Do your due diligence. You know something? Why don't you stand outside the office and add up the hours they work for the city."
When the mayor tried to calm his brother, Councillor Ford replied, "No, I'm sick and tired of guys like this." Later, a caller complained about the outburst, prompting the councillor to apologize. "I do get a little hot when we get accused and accused and accused," he said.
Without naming names, Councillor Ford also took aim at city hall reporters.
"They sit on their ass, as I said before, rather than going and looking for the story," he said.
At the same time, however, both men decried the attendance of several reporters at last week's Don Bosco team practice, which Mr. Ford called "sickening," noting the players were "rattled."
"[The students] see these wolves sitting there with saliva on their mouth, ready to take the coach away," Councillor Ford added, after a parent of players from one of the mayor's teams called in to assure the mayor he is "doing a great job" of coaching.
The radio show covered a variety of topics, playing host to guests such as hockey legend Paul Henderson and Toronto International Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey. But Councillor Ford spent substantial parts of the two-hour program trying to refocus the public debate on his brother's cost-cutting as well as his obvious devotion to sometimes troubled teenage football players.
"There's no one who helps black youth more than Rob Ford. And they want to go out and attack his team, they want to go and attack the kids who live in the [Toronto Community Housing Corporation] housing," Councillor Ford said. "It's our hope that one day these media folks at city hall will return to covering the issues that Toronto residents really care about."
In the meantime, he promised more of the same from future radio episodes.
"We're just warming up. The fireworks are going to start on a bunch of these left-wing, elitist socialists," Councillor Ford said.