Mark Towhey, far left, with Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Mayor Rob Ford on Friday, May 17.
The atmosphere of crisis surrounding City Hall intensified on Thursday, when Rob Ford abruptly fired his chief of staff.
Mark Towhey was escorted out of Mayor Ford's office by security early in the afternoon following a brief meeting with the mayor and city manager Joe Pennachetti.
On his way out, Towhey - who was promoted to the top job in the mayor's office in August - told reporters that the move was not a surprise and confirmed that it wasn't his choice.
"I'm no longer the chief of staff, I did not resign," he said.
In a statement released shortly after Towhey left the building, the mayor's office said, "Mr. Towhey has been a intricate [sic] part of the Mayor's Office and has made many valuable contributions. The Mayor thanks Mr. Towhey for his valuable service and wishes him the very best in his future endeavours."
Deputy chief of staff Earl Provost will take over the position until further notice.
By many accounts, the mayor's office was already understaffed, and Councillor Jaye Robinson says losing Towhey couldn't have come at a worse time. Ford's administration increasingly appears in freefall as the mayor continues to avoid media and refuses to answer questions about allegations, made public one week ago, that he smoked crack cocaine.
"Right now I would say it's a train crash," Robinson said. "That's the only way to describe it. It's just one thing after the next. It's not even daily anymore, it's hourly. It's becoming very disruptive."
Robinson said that Ford's staff notified her Towhey was on his way out shortly before he was dismissed. Despite the ongoing crack controversy, Robinson says the firing had nothing to do with the drug accusations.
"I don't have all the details, but my understanding is it's something related to football," Robinson said.
She wouldn't elaborate, but on Wednesday the Toronto Catholic District School Board ousted Ford from his volunteer coaching position with the Don Bosco Eagles high school team.
As the cocaine controversy continues to swirl, Robinson said that she and other members of the mayor's executive committee have begun strategizing ways to bring the crisis to a conclusion.
She said she expected Ford to try to bring some clarity to the affair by addressing the media this week, but any hope of that faded Wednesday when his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, held a press conference instead.
"Knowing the mayor, I would anticipate that we won't see him speak on this issue," Robinson said.
"But as of last night, we are starting to have conversations, as executive members, about how we ensure the city's business is being achieved."
But there appears to be little that even members of his cabinet-like executive can do to force Ford's hand. Robinson "went through a number of scenarios" with the city clerk on Wednesday and was told that councillors can take no formal action to compel the mayor to speak out or, if the allegations are true, to resign.
"It's very clear, that nothing can happen. Council has no authority, executive has no authority," Robinson said. "The only person who can determine if the mayor resigns is the mayor himself."
In theory, councillors could resign from the executive in protest, but according to council procedure that would mean vacating their roles as chairs of city committees as well. That's something that most people on the 12-member committee appear reluctant to do.
"I was elected as the chair of the government management committee," said Councillor Paul Ainslie, an executive member who has steadily drifted away from Ford in recent months. "I'm going to continue to do that work. I'm going to continue to work hard to make the government open and transparent."
"I don't see how resigning would have any impact on the mayor," said Councillor Peter Milczyn, another exec member, who also chairs the planning committee. "I suppose if everybody resigned en masse that sends a signal, but then that also leads a void as to running the business of the city."
Milczyn said that as the cocaine accusations remain unaddressed, the mood at City Hall has become "sombre," with council members not only concerned about official affairs abut also worried for the mayor's wellbeing.
"Genuinely for him as a person, for a father of two young kids, I'm concerned about him and his family," the Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor said. "He has two young children that should always be first and foremost in his mind."
Towhey, a gruff but trusted aide who worked on Ford's campaign, is only the latest senior staffer to leave the mayor's office since 2010. Ford's former press secretary, Adrienne Batra, quit in November of 2011, and Towhey's predecessor, Amir Remtulla, left his post in July of 2012. Before that Nick Kouvalis, also chief of staff, resigned in February 2011.
At roughly 4:30 p.m. Thursday Mayor Ford left his office through a side door while media were distracted by his brother, who briefly spoke to media before retreating into a secure area of City Hall.