Rob Ford at a press conference in his protocol lounge, May 31, 2013.
A small but growing group of councillors is asking Mayor Rob Ford to take a leave of absence until the drug allegations shrouding his administration are resolved.
For the past two weeks, the routine workings of City Hall have been dominated by reports of a cellphone video that allegedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine. Those reports were followed by an exodus of the mayor's staff members over the past week and fresh allegations that Ford, who has publicly denied the video's existence, privately told employees that he knew where the drug dealers who shot it were keeping it stashed.
A handful of council centrists believe that the current situation cannot go on, and say the mayor needs to step aside temporarily for the good of the city.
"I think it's a must. The distractions are impacting the city, residents are concerned about that," said Jaye Robinson, a member of Ford's executive committee and the most vocal councillor calling for the mayor to take a leave.
"I'm not asking him to resign, I'm asking him to take a leave of absence... and work through these issues and then determine from that point whether he comes back and finishes the term."
Councillor James Pasternak, another swing-voter, agrees that if Ford took some time away from office it would lower the temperature on the ongoing drug scandal and allow council to get back to addressing important civic issues.
"He should probably take his staff and go into a retreat, and decide whether he can hang on ‘til the election campaign starts in January of 2014," said Pasternak. "At the same time, the option is there for him to step aside and reregister as a candidate next year."
"I think it's pretty important that he take a deep breath and be self-reflective. This cannot keep going on, week after week."
Councillor Josh Matlow accuses Ford of being "selfish" by allowing the drug allegations to overwhelm regular city business.
"I do believe that the mayor should willingly step aside to put Toronto before himself," Matlow said Thursday. "Just go deal with this and don't drag the whole city through it with you."
Robinson has discussed the temporary leave idea with a handful of her colleagues and believes there is significant support for it on council, but will not say who is on board at this time because they have not yet given their firm commitment.
While she has no plans to make any formal request to the mayor at this point, she has requested to meet with Ford and discuss it, to no avail. She expects the proposal could gather steam next week when 18 councillors, most of them left-wing opponents of the mayor, return from a Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference in Vancouver.
Since reports of the cellphone video were published by Gawker and the Toronto Star two weeks ago, Ford's most vocal critics on the left have largely been silent. The thinking on the second floor of City Hall is that centrist or conservative councillors are better positioned to speak out because they are less likely to be accused of playing politics with the scandal.
But so far, those closest to the mayor aren't pushing him to step aside, even as they acknowledge that he may be in serious trouble both politically and personally.
"I think that the mayor is going to do what he's going to do," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who has stuck by Ford throughout his term. "I'm concerned personally for the mayor. I'm worried for him if some of these rumours are true. And that I think he has to take care of himself. But I think it's his decision on what he wishes to do."
Ford ignored a question on Friday about the suggestion that he take a leave. When NOW asked him about it at an afternoon question he responded, "Anything else?"
The mayor's media appearances have fallen into a familiar pattern this week: with media outlets all over the world reporting on the sensational crack cocaine allegations, Ford has held nearly daily press availabilities on unrelated topics in an apparent effort to change the channel. At every one, he has refused to take questions about the drug scandal.
Friday he briefed the press on his efforts to "clean up" a two-year old corruption scandal at Toronto Community Housing.
Under questions from the media however he confirmed that he had hastily hired three new staffers Friday after losing five employees in the past week. A sixth, special assistant Michael Prempeh, left on Friday, but Ford said his departure had been planned for a month and a half.