Photo by Ben Spurr
After evading the media for seven days, Mayor Rob Ford has finally addressed the drug allegations that have plunged his administration into turmoil.
With dozens of reporters camped outside his office for the fifth day this week, the mayor called a snap press conference at 3:30 pm at which he denied having an addiction to crack cocaine.
But he stopped short of saying that he had never used the drug, and blamed the Toronto Star for starting the drug controversy, despite the fact the New York-based Gawker site first reported the existence last week of a cell phone video allegedly showing him smoking cocaine.
(Video by Jonathan Goldsbie)
"There has been a serious accusation from the Toronto Star that I use crack cocaine," Ford said. "I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.
"As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist."
Looking clean-cut, smiling, and flanked by Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor said that the past week has "taken a great toll on my family and my friends, and the great people of Toronto."
He explained that he had been silent since the allegations broke on the advice of his solicitor, but did not say why he had decided to break that silence on Friday.
Ford also spoke of his recent dismissal from his role as volunteer high school football coach with the Don Bosco Eagles, and the firing of his chief of staff, Mark Towhey. He made no mention of reports that Towhey was let go on Thursday because he had urged Ford to check himself into rehab.
Despite having spent little time at City Hall over the past seven days, and the ongoing controversy surrounding his alleged substance abuse issues, Ford insisted that city government was carrying on as normal.
"I would like to assure everyone that we are continuing to fight for the taxpayers every day, and it's business at usual at City Hall," he said. "This administration is turning the corner, and I will continue to do what the great people of the city elected me to do, and that was to keep taxes low, to improve customer service, and to reduce the size and cost of government and invest in our infrastructure."
Ford did not take any questions after his speech, which lasted less than four minutes.
Councillor Ford did field some queries from reporters but was heckled when he attempted to blame the drug allegations on "one news source."
Shortly before the mayor spoke, six members of his executive committee released a letter calling on him to "definitively address the allegations before him."
After the mayor's speech, Peter Milczyn, one of the councillors who signed the letter, said Ford had done what the executive had asked of him.
"We wanted him to address the people of Toronto. He made a very direct and robust statement about the allegations, about what he's doing these days, and so I'm satisfied that he made a serious statement to the people of the city," Milczyn said.
But the councillor predicted the mayor's statement won't completely clear the air.
"Obviously this is not done. This is not going to go away today with this statement," Milczyn said. "But the mayor needed to speak to the people of the city. He spoke."
Jaye Robinson, another executive member who signed the open letter, described Ford's statement as a "great first step."
"I'm pleased that the mayor stepped forward and spoke on this. I'm not sure that he went far enough. I'm not sure that the response was comprehensive. And, you know, I would have liked to have seen him address the allegations in more detail," she said. "Having said that, he did address the issue... and that is what we had asked him to do."
But other councillors were not placated. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said Ford had missed an opportunity to be honest with the public, and has proved himself unfit to govern.
"My reaction is one of massive disappointment. I think the mayor had an opportunity to speak to the people of Toronto, to acknowledge that he may be having some personal challenges," De Baeremaeker said. "Instead, the mayor basically went on the attack."
"His own staff, I think, know the truth. His own chief of staff has been fired. He's spinning out of control, and I think it's time for him to resign, plain and simple. He cannot govern the city anymore. He has no legitimacy."