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Toronto mayor admits purchasing illegal drugs, asked to take leave of absence

 

In a contentious and at times rowdy City Council meeting, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford faced the wrath of lawmakers, who pushed for him to resign or enter rehab.

Ford, who recently admitted to drunken stupors and smoking crack, remained defiant during the debate Wednesday while admitting to purchasing illegal drugs in the past two years.

When asked the question by Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Ford responded, "Yes, I have." 

Almost every member of the council stood up and asked Ford to take a leave of absence after he admitted smoking crack last week.

"Together we stand to ask you to step aside and take a leave of absence," Councilor Jaye Robinson said, reading an open letter to Ford in the City Council.

The council voted 41-2 to accept the letter Wednesday, with the embattled mayor casting one of the opposing votes.

The packed council chamber erupted with applause when Robinson ended her speech, saying, "Let's get on with city business."

During the debate, Ford denied allegations that he knocked down a staff member at his St. Patrick's Day party. 

"Some of it was true and some of it was false," he said. 

The mayor described the scandal as "the most humiliating experience that I've went through in my entire life."

According to TorontoSun.com, the mayor predicted that "he'll be here for another five years," and said he is "not an addict of any sort."

"I'm a positive role model," he said. 

"I wish I was as straight as everyone in this council chamber," he added. 

The vote was a stark demonstration of Ford's political isolation, but it was symbolic. The council has no authority to force him out because he has not been convicted of a crime.

Ford declared he was feeling good about confronting angry City Council members as he arrived for the meeting. 

Ford's refusal to resign has confounded Toronto's City Council, where many members agree that his erratic behavior has consumed Toronto's politics and undermined efforts to tackle other challenges.

"Feeling great," Ford said, smiling as he arrived at City Hall.

With no clear legal path to force him out, the 44-member City Council is grasping for ways to shunt the larger-than-life leader aside and govern without him until next year's municipal elections.

It is an unprecedented effort, but in some ways, it may not be a stretch. Toronto's mayor already has limited powers compared to the mayors of many large cities in the United States. He is just one voting member in the council and his power stems mostly from his ability, as the only councilor elected by citywide vote, to build consensus and set the agenda. That authority, many council members say, has evaporated in the crack scandal.

"We really just have to build a box around the mayor so we can get work done," said councilor John Filion, who has introduced one of two motions in the council designed to isolate Ford.

The motion was introduced by Minnan-Wong, who has been supportive of the conservative Ford's policies since the mayor was elected three years ago, riding a backlash from suburbanites who felt alienated by what they deemed Toronto's downtown-centric, liberal-dominated politics.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, also a Ford ally, announced shortly before the debate that he would support the motion.

"I'm publicly advising the mayor to take some time," Kelly said.

The City Council has no authority itself to oust Ford because he has not been convicted of a crime. Toronto police said last month they had obtained a long-sought video of Ford apparently smoking from a crack pipe but that it does not constitute enough evidence to charge him.

News reports of the crack video's existence first surfaced in May, but it has not been released publicly.

After police announced they had the video, Ford confessed that he smoked crack last year while drunk and apologized. But he insisted he is not addicted to drugs and does not need rehab.

On Tuesday, he cheerfully signed bobblehead dolls of himself being sold at City Hall for charity. "It's going to be rumble in the jungle tomorrow," Ford said of the looming debate, as hundreds lined up to buy the dolls.

One Ford ally, Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti, called the Minnan-Wong's motion a waste of time, arguing it should be up to the voters next year to decide whether the mayor should stay in office.

"We can't tell him what to do. Only the electorate can tell him what to do," he said. "Most of us that care have already spoken to the mayor or relayed it to the mayor's family. I think that's what's needed. The rest is up to the electorate."

Another proposed motion would curtail Ford's powers, suspending his authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee, which runs the budget process. It likely won't be debated until December because of the council's procedural rules.

Filion, the councilor who introduced that motion, said the idea is to prevent Ford from firing executive committee members -- such as Minnan-Wong -- who speak out against him. Councilors are also considering stripping Ford's authority to set the City Council's agenda, said Councilor Adam Vaughan, who opposes getting the province involved.

"We will shun him, curtail his power as best we can," Vaughan said. "He clearly has gone off the deep end, shot himself in outer space."

Despite his eroding political leverage, Ford promises to see re-election. He maintains a hard-core group of supporters he refers to as "Ford Nation," who applaud him for abolishing an annual $60 vehicle registration tax, squeezing valuable concessions out of the labor unions and other cost-saving measures.

"It won't be the end of Ford Nation," said Nelson Wiseman, a political professor at the University of Toronto. "The movement and the anti-government sentiment it embodied that got him elected will stay alive."

Plenty of people lining up for "Robbie Bobbie" bobbleheads defended the mayor, who despite coming from a wealthy family, has cultivated a brash, everyman appeal.

"I'm just going to put it on the shelf and enjoy it," said John Rowland. "Everyone has their own personal problems. He's finally admitted to it. I really don't think that affects what he's doing here at city hall."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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