Rob Ford has come out swinging against allegations that he has a serious drinking problem.
At a ceremony Tuesday to give legendary Canadian boxer George Chuvalo a key to the city, Ford was asked about the front page Toronto Star article that contained the allegations. In a brief outburst, he denounced the story as "an outright lie."
"It's the Toronto Star going after me again, and again, and again," he said.
"They're relentless, that's fine. I'll go head to head with the Toronto Star any time. Let's just wait til the election is, and then see what happens.
"It's just lies after lies and lies."
The mayor has a long-running feud with the Star, dating back to a story it ran during the 2010 election campaign alleging that while a coach for a North York high school football team he had an altercation with one of his players.
After making the charged statements, Ford admonished reporters who had come to the event to ask him about his alleged insobriety.
"It's about George Chuvalo today guys. Have some respect," he said.
While it was ostensibly the boxer's day, the mob of reporters who turned up at the event were much more interested in asking about Ford's alleged substance abuse problem, rumours about which have swirled at least since earlier this month. That's when former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson accused Ford of groping her while allegedly under the influence at a political event.
Some members of the public who attended the key ceremony audibly bristled when, after the mayor stepped away from the podium, reporters asked Chuvalo for his thoughts on the Star story.
The 75-year-old former heavyweight didn't address the specifics of the report, but proclaimed that Ford was a "good guy." Asked what advice he had for Ford, Chuvalo, who has known the mayor's family for years, told him to "keep truckin."
"Rob's always been a good person, he's always been a kind person," Chuvalo said. "I know he's got a good heart."
Chuvalo lost three sons and a wife to substance abuse-related incidents, and speaks regularly to students and other groups about the devastating impact of addiction.
The story printed in the Star Tuesday reported that Ford was asked to leave a military gala in February after appearing intoxicated. It described his alleged alcoholism as an "open secret" at City Hall and quoted anonymous current and former members of his staff who said that there had been repeated efforts to get Ford help, but he had rejected them all.
The sources said they were concerned for Ford's health as well as the impact his alleged drinking problem was having on his ability to do his job.
On Tuesday, Ford's press secretary denied that the mayor had been asked to leave the Toronto Garrison Ball. As the mayor and his entourage entered the elevator on the second floor of City Hall to attend the key ceremony, George Christopolous told the crush of reporters, "For the record, the mayor was never asked to leave the gala."
Christopolous would not answer any further questions, but some of the mayor's allies had more to say.
Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, took to the airwaves Tuesday morning to criticize the Star for practicing "gutter journalism." He flatly denied Ford had a drinking problem.
"From the day Rob announced he was going to get elected, every day they seem to be making up stories here," Councillor Ford told NewsTalk 1010 host Jerry Agar.
Councillor Ford also refuted comments made by Councillor Paul Ainslie, who confirmed to the Star that the mayor had been asked to leave the Garrison event. Doug Ford said that Ainslie didn't speak with his brother that night, and suggested he had no knowledge of the mayor's condition.
"He did not talk to the mayor. It was someone else that told someone else that told someone else. It's the same story with the Toronto Star, Jerry, it's always anonymous sources. Well, where are these sources?" Doug Ford asked.
Ainslie, usually a loyal ally of the Ford administration, did not immediately return a request for comment from NOW.
Another Ford ally, Councillor Gary Crawford, denied that the mayor's drinking was an "open secret" around City Hall.
"I was surprised when I saw the story, let's put it that way," he told reporters after the Chuvalo event.
"From my perspective, any event that I've been to with the mayor, whether it's public or private, I've never seen any of that at all."
Earlier in the day, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday came to Ford's defence, saying he had never seen any indication Ford has a drinking problem.
"I've never seen the mayor take a drink," he said.