Rob Ford may be out of town, but that doesn't mean there's no controversy coming out of the mayor's office.
On Friday morning Ford's chief of staff, Mark Towhey, triggered some online blowback when he allegedly referred to sex workers as "whores" during an exchange with a Toronto Sun columnist and a radio producer.
Britt Aharoni, the producer of the Jim Richards show on Newstalk 1010, kicked off the conversation by tweeting about Jordan Whelan, a Sun writer who goes by the Twitter handle "@thetryguy."
"Just found out that @thetryguy belongs to a monthly underwear club. He says its ‘like a book club, but for whores,'" Aharoni wrote at 9:52 am.
Two minutes later, Towhey wrote back "I suspect even whores change their underwear more than once a month. (Just guessing)."
Some City Hall watchers were less than amused by Towhey's quip. "Our mayor's chief of staff is calling women ‘whores' on Twitter and this is why we can't have nice things, women of Toronto," wrote Steph Guthrie, co-founder of Women in Toronto Politics, on her Twitter feed.
Nikki Thomas, a writer and the executive director of Sex Workers of Toronto, also took Towhey to task.
"Hi there! I'm a whore in Toronto's sex trade, and dislike being the punch line in a joke from one of my public reps," she tweeted.
"Why is the mayor's chief of staff using this kind of language in a public forum?" asked Globe and Mail urban affairs writer John Lorinc.
Despite the criticism, Towhey, who is known around City Hall for his at times abrasive style, did not back from his comment. He tweeted at Guthrie that he wasn't referring to women as "whores" and asked her to "retract your libel immediately."
He claimed that had not been describing sex workers in the original controversial message. "None of the whores I know are, to my knowledge, in the sex trade :)" he wrote.
Aharoni leapt to Towhey's defence, writing "I think [he] probably was joking about political ‘whoring.'"
She said it was "simply a joke" and "nothing more."
Update, 12:05 pm: At 10:31 am, Towhey sent out the following message: "2 be clear, I was not referring to women when I used the word. If that's how you interpreted it, & I can... now see how you might esp. if out of context, then I apologize for the offense. It was not my intent."