Rob Ford speaks to reporters outside his office, May 30, 2013. Photo by Ben Spurr.
Another day, another round of desertions in the mayor's office.
Mayor Rob Ford's besieged administration was dealt another blow Thursday when two of his staffers left their posts.
That makes five people who have left the mayor's office in the past week, as allegations that Ford was caught on a cell phone video smoking crack cocaine continue to swirl around the administration.
Ford fired his chief of staff, Mark Towhey, last Thursday, and two senior communications aides, George Christopoulos and Isaac Ransom, stepped down on Monday.
Early on Thursday afternoon Brian Johnston, a policy advisor and council relations aide, was escorted out of City Hall by security after the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, were seen stalking into the glass-walled administration office.
Although security guards usually accompany employees who have been fired, Johnston told a camera crew in the building's parking lot that he left of his own accord.
"The timing was right for me," he said.
Kia Nejatian, Ford's executive assistant, also quit, but it's not clear when. He was not seen at City Hall Thursday afternoon.
The pair's abrupt departure comes after rumours of a leak in the Ford camp. This week, anonymous sources were quoted in newspapers describing details of closed-door discussions about the crack scandal in the mayor's office.
Ford spoke to the media shortly after 4:30 p.m. and insisted that his office was functioning normally, despite the latest staff losses. As he did after Christopoulos and Ransom resigned, the mayor suggested Johnston and Nejatian had simply left to pursue other jobs.
"I have a talented and loyal group of people. They're working their backside off. They're here morning, noon, and night, and they're giving it all they have," he said. "But I've also always said to my staff, if a new opportunity arises, take it. And I want to thank Kia and Brian for their service."
He added later: "Everything's going fine. I'm keeping taxes low, I've saved a billion dollars, we're getting things done."
Ford rejected the idea, put to him by one reporter, that the rash of resignations was a sign of trouble. "There's nothing going on in my office, obviously," he said.
The mayor did not respond to several questions about the drug allegations, repeatedly saying "Anything else?" instead of answering. He has not taken any journalists' questions about the crack video since two weeks ago, when reports about it were first published. Three journalists claim to have seen it, but so far it has not been made public.
Despite Ford's pronunciations that all is well at City Hall, Councillor Peter Milczyn, a member of the mayor's executive committee, says it's clear that the drug allegations have taken their toll on Ford's employees.
"There's a lot of stress over there, there's a lot of pressure over there," he said. "So what before would have been seen as quite a plum place to be working, people might see it as not so much that right now."
Although he wouldn't go so far as to call the situation a crisis, Milczyn says it's becoming difficult for the mayor's office to carry out routine city business. Even before the past week's exodus, many council members complained that Ford's administration was understaffed.
"It's going to be a challenge for him to operate his office for the next little while, absolutely, without a doubt," Milczyn said.
Councillor Josh Matlow, a council centrist, believes Ford is not being truthful about how damaging the mass resignations have been.
"When he says that everything is fine, that's categorically untrue. Everything is not fine. His office is dysfunctional and his mayoralty is in chaos," Matlow said. "The work of a mayor's office can't be done by a bunch of empty seats and a few football players."
Several of the people Ford has hired over the course of his term have been former student football players or, in the case of David Price, the mayor's former football coach.
Earlier in the day, Matlow sent out a tweet that said, "Toronto needs a new mayor." In an interview with NOW the councillor clarified that he was not calling for Ford's resignation outright, but said he believes the mayor should at least take a leave of absence to deal with his personal problems, which reportedly include alcohol abuse.
Meanwhile councillors continue to call on Ford to answer questions on the crack scandal, which shows no sign of abating. On Thursday morning the Toronto Star reported that, according to anonymous sources, Ford told his staff not to worry about the video because he knew where it was being kept.
The report contradicted Ford's public statements, in which he has claimed the video does not exist.
Councillor John Parker believes the mayor is being "evasive" on the issue and called on him to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
"He's being far too glib with the entire matter," said Parker, a conservative council member for Don Valley West. "What we've seen is short, abrupt remarks, but not a clear demonstration of addressing the matter head on."
Councillor James Pasternak made a similar plea.
"We're looking for unequivocal statements from the mayor," he said. "He's the chief magistrate, it's Canada's largest city - the ducking and weaving and waffling just won't work around here."
Pasternak, the councillor for York Centre, stopped short of calling on Ford to resign, saying that's a decision only the mayor can make.
"The person who decides when the mayor steps down is the mayor," he said.
"However, he has to determine [whether] he either goes to the people in [the 2014 election] or whether he feels it's in the best interest to step down now and then re-register as a candidate next January."