“Go and never come back”: Rob Ford takes leave

Troubled mayor skips town as colleagues call for his resignation

Councillor Doug Ford fought back tears Thursday as he addressed the media for the first time since his brother announced he was taking a leave of absence from his job as mayor.

In the members lounge at City Hall, Councillor Ford said he was “relieved” that Mayor Rob Ford is taking time to deal with his personal issues.

“Well folks, I can tell you that this is one of the toughest days of my life,” Councillor Ford said. “But in saying that, I also have a sense of relief. As an older brother I am relieved that Rob has faced his problems and has decided to seek professional help.”

After more than three tumultuous years as the head of Canada’s largest municipal government, the mayor announced Wednesday night he was taking a leave to deal with an alcohol problem he had been struggling with “for some time.” In his statement, he made no mention of a drug problem despite his previous admission to smoking crack cocaine.

His decision came as two local papers published new recordings of his scandalous behaviour.

An audio recording posted by the Toronto Sun captured Mayor Ford delivering an intoxicated rant full of inflammatory sexual comments, some of them directed at Councillor Karen Stintz, as well as using bigoted language.

The Globe and Mail published a separate report of a video showing the mayor smoking what was reportedly crack cocaine. Toronto police have told media outlets they plan to investigate.

The audio was reportedly recorded Monday night at an Etobicoke bar, and the footage Saturday morning in the basement of Ford sister Kathy.

Since reports of the first video of the mayor smoking what appeared to be crack were first published a year ago, Councillor Ford has attacked councillors and journalists who suggested his brother might have a problem. Both brothers repeatedly accused their political opponents and the media of colluding to bring them down while adamantly denying the mayor had deep-seated problems.

On Thursday Councillor Ford made no mention of his part in the mayor’s pattern of deception. Instead he expressed hope that people of all political stripes would support Rob in his recovery.

“I love my brother,” the councillor said, tears welling in his eyes and his voice catching. “I’ll continue to stand by my brother and his family throughout this difficult journey. Please join me – keep Rob and his family in your prayers.”

He asked the media to respect the mayor’s privacy. He did not say where Rob, who was seen leaving his house with a suitcase on Thursday morning, would be seeking treatment. Early Thursday afternoon, Global News reported the mayor had boarded a Chicago-bound private plane at Buttonville Airport.

Confronted by cameras at a strip mall near her home in Etobicoke, the mayor’s mother Diane Ford said it was a “sad” and “bittersweet” day.

She said that before his decision to step aside she had “no idea” how bad Ford’s problems were. She said she was glad he was getting help and asked the press to lay off of him.

“Just leave him alone. That’s all I ask of the media,” she said. “He’s doing what he has to do and it’s good.”

An hour before Doug’s remarks, Stintz also addressed the media, and said she was “shocked and embarrassed” by the mayor’s foul comments about her.

On the recording Ford is asked what he thinks of Stintz and responds, “I’d like to fucking jam her, but she don’t want it.”

“I am disappointed by the misogynistic language used by Mayor Ford,” Stintz said. “There is no place in this city for sexism or homophobia, especially in the mayor’s office.”

The “homophobic” comments Stintz referred to were made about the Pride flag incident earlier this year. In his the drunken recording released by the Sun, Ford says he wouldn’t vote for Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak because he supported a campaign to fly the Pride flag outside Queen’s Park in solidarity with LGBTQ athletes competing in the Sochi Olympics.

“[They] put this fucking flag up, ahead of our Canadian flag,” says Ford on the audio. “I said, no, [that’s-what-I’m-trying-to-say] that’s bullshit. Bullshit. They went to Queen’s Park, they said ‘no way.’ Tim Hudak comes out and says ‘yeah I agree with all the gays.’ That’s it. I lost my conservative value.”

Stintz’s campaign issued a statement on Wednesday demanding an apology, but Thursday morning she did not reiterate that call.

“If Rob Ford was truly sorry, he would have apologized to me last night. And I’m not interested in an empty apology,” she said.

Stintz stopped short of calling on Ford to resign, saying that “only the people of Toronto can remove Rob Ford from office.”

The councillor expressed concern for the mayor’s family, but also said she had had to explain to her own two children that “the mayor said some mean things about their mummy” before she sent them off to school Thursday morning.

Fellow candidate Olivia Chow also declined to demand Ford’s resignation.

“It’s obvious that Mr. Ford is a sick man. It’s obvious that he has a serious drug addiction problem,” she said. “In October, the residents of this city will issue a verdict on Mr. Ford and we will have a new mayor.”

Many councillors were in a less sympathetic mood however, and called for the mayor to step down for good.

“This is a great city and I think it’s time that we carry on the business of this city without being held hostage to the activities of a very stubborn man,” said Janet Davis, who argued Ford’s behaviour over many years shows he has “serious problems” and “deep-held views that are quite disdainful.”

Paula Fletcher was skeptical about whether Ford was serious about getting treatment.

“Addicts don’t ever admit they have a problem. So we’ll have to see,” she said. “I hope this isn’t just a good story to say ‘I’ve gone to rehab.'”

Councillor John Parker thinks Ford should quit public life altogether.

“He should resign as mayor, he should give up politics, and he should straighten himself out,” he said. “Go and never come back. Things have gone too far.”

In Ford’s absence, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly will assume the mayor’s staff and duties. Council already granted him many of the mayoral powers in November following Ford’s admission to smoking crack “in a drunken stupor.”

Kelly moved quickly to assure citizens that it will be business as usual while Ford is gone. At an 11:45 a.m. press conference, he described the situation as “a personal tragedy” that “should not be seen as a crisis in government.”

While calling the mayor’s actions “inexcusable” Kelly said he hopes Ford will return to City Hall before the council term expires in October.

“On behalf of myself, council, and the Toronto public service I would like to convey our best wishes to the mayor and his family as he gets the help that he is seeking,” Kelly said.

If Ford is to sober up and return to his job, he might not have much time to do it. The City of Toronto Act dictates that if a council member is absent from council meetings for three consecutive months his or her seat will be declared vacant.

That means Ford will have to attend the meeting scheduled for July 8 and 9 or risk losing his job. Council could rescue him by passing a motion excusing his absence, but given his lack of support among his colleagues it’s not certain they would do so.

bens@nowtoronto.com | @benspurr

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