A day after the stunning court decision that could end his tenure atop city council, Rob Ford delivered a contrite statement Tuesday on the outcome of his conflict of interest case.
At a brief press conference during what could well be his last council meeting as mayor, the normally combative Ford appeared tired and deflated. His voice hoarse and breaking at times, Toronto's faltering mayor told the assembled media that he respected Justice Charles Hackland's ruling but is determined to fight it.
The statement was in marked contrast with comments he made on Monday, in which he blamed "left-wing politics" for the ruling.
"My decision to appeal is not a criticism of the court," Ford said Tuesday. "But I feel it is important to work through the appeals system so I can continue to do the work I was elected to do for the taxpayers of this city."
Ford maintained that he did nothing wrong and said the controversy began "because I love to help kids play football." "I was focused on raising money to help underprivileged youth. I never believed there was a conflict of interest because I had nothing to gain, and the city had nothing to lose," he said. "But I respect the court's decision."
Ford also issued his most explicit apology since being taken to court over his decision to speak and vote on a council motion that asked him to repay $3,150 in donations he improperly solicited for his football foundation. In his decision, Hackland found that Ford's actions at the February council meeting constituted a breach of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the automatic penalty for which is removal from office.
"Looking back, maybe I could have expressed myself in a different way. To everyone who believes I should have done this differently, I sincerely apologize," Ford said.
According to the mayor's press secretary, Ford's lawyers have filed a request for a stay of Hackland's decision. A court will consider the request next Wednesday, and unless it's granted, Ford will be forced to step down on December 10, pending his appeal.
The appeal will be heard on January 7, and will decide whether Hackland's controversial decision is ultimately upheld. But depending on whether the stay is granted next week, Ford may be out of office by that time. How he could be reinstated if Hackland's decision were eventually overturned is not clear.
But even as Ford is showed signs of contrition, there were indications that the conflict decision has inflicted irreversible damage on his political fortunes at council. Councillors once considered his closest allies are now moving to distance themselves from the embattled mayor.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a one-time loyal Ford lieutenant, told reporters at the morning council session that the mayor might want to reconsider launching an appeal that would prolong uncertainty about who's in charge of city government. If Ford is determined to appeal, Mammoliti suggested he should be relieved of his duties until the court makes a final decision.
"I'm not saying quit," Mammoliti said. "I'm saying think about handing over the reins-temporarily, while you appeal this-to the deputy mayor. And I think that's the right thing to do right now."
The York West councillor says he's concerned that the economy will suffer as long as the mayor's fate is up in the air.
"Toronto is in a crisis right now, we're in limbo," he said. "We don't want investors to turn their back on the city of Toronto, and I think everybody should keep that in mind."
Mammoliti's conversion from hard line Fordist to vocal skeptic has been swift. On Monday he quit Ford's executive committee hours after Hackland's ruling came down, citing phone calls from constituents urging him to cut ties with the mayor.
A former NDP MPP turned conservative council strongman, Mammoliti has been criticized in the past for changing his political stripes on a whim. He was also a failed mayoral candidate in 2010, and there is speculation he's planning another run at the job.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, another formerly reliable Ford ally, predicted that the mayor's decision to appeal will only be a "distraction" from more important issues at City Hall.
The councillor stopped short of saying the mayor should step aside, however.
"That's a decision right now for the mayor to make," he said. "I'm saying it's a distraction."
Minnan-Wong, who has also been floated as a potential mayoral candidate, described his frustration at watching the mayor's self-generated controversies overwhelm what the councillor considers important achievements, such as contracting out garbage collection and negotiating new labour deals with city employees.
"Examples of bad judgment, getting involved in [street repairs outside his family firm] Deco Labels, being at football games and not being at council meetings," Minnan-Wong said. "All those things rolled up into one, it becomes much more difficult to get the agenda through, and do the things that we need to do to make the city better, to make the city run more efficiently, and to save taxpayers' money."
Asked if he still supports the mayor, the councillor said, "I support many of the agenda items that the mayor put forward. That's my answer."