TORONTO – Beset by scandal, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford faced another likely setback Monday as the City Council took up a motion to snatch away many of his remaining powers in a heated council meeting. Ford called the effort a "coup d'etat" and challenged the council to call snap elections.
The debate on the motion became heated after Ford paced around the council chamber and traded barbs with members of the public. The speaker asked security to clear the chamber and a recess was called. Members of the public chanted "Shame! Shame!" at the mayor.
Ford himself charged at the gallery at one point and almost knocked over a woman councilor.
Under the motion, already endorsed by a majority of council members, Ford would have his office budget cut by 60 percent and his mayoral staff would be allowed to join the deputy mayor. Ford would effectively have no legislative power as he would no longer chair the executive committee.
The motion was revised from a tougher version to ward off potential legal challenges. Ford would retain his title and ability to represent Toronto at official functions. The city's lawyer said the proposal does not render Ford "mayor in name only."
The council does not have the power to remove Ford from office, barring a criminal conviction. It is pursuing the strongest recourse available after recent revelations that Ford smoked crack cocaine and his repeated outbursts of erratic behavior.
"Mayor Ford has had many choices ... would he change his behavior? Would he step aside and seek help? ...The mayor unfortunately has chosen the path of denial," Councilor John Filion said. "Now it's time to take away the keys. ... The new allegations pile up faster than the old ones can be dealt with. If many Torontonians were initially fascinated by the drama, they are now fed up with it. They want it to end."
Far from being chastened, Ford has vowed to take the council to court and insists he will seek re-election next year.
"It's a coup d'etat — that's all this is," Ford said as he arrived at City Hall on Monday morning.
He earlier claimed on a radio station that councilors were against his agenda to save taxpayers' money. "If they want me out, they should just call a snap election," Ford told radio station AM640.
Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former Ford ally, said it's about his conduct.
"This about embarrassing the city, his involvement with gangs, his involvement with crack cocaine this about his admission that he gets behind the wheel while drinking," Minnan-Wong said.
"He's the worst spokesman for the city of Toronto right now."
On Sunday, Ford embraced the spotlight, giving an interview to Fox News and showing up at a Toronto Argonauts game even though the commissioner of the Canadian Football League had suggested that he not attend.
He and his brother are set to debut a current events television show Monday night called "Ford Nation" for the Sun News Network.
Toronto, a city of 2.7 million people, has been abuzz with the Ford melodrama since May, when news outlets reported that he had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine.
Recently released court documents show the mayor became the subject of a police investigation after those reports surfaced. Ford, who denied there was any incriminating video, now acknowledges the reports were accurate.
In interviews with police, former Ford staffers have made further accusations, saying the mayor drank heavily, sometimes drove while intoxicated and pressured a female staffer to engage in oral sex.
On Thursday, Ford spouted an obscenity on live television while denying the sex allegation, saying he was "happily married" and using crude language to assert that he enjoys enough oral sex at home.
Last week, after admitting to excessive drinking and buying illegal drugs, Ford disclosed that he is seeking medical help. But he and his family insist he is not an addict and does not need rehab.
The mayor addressed some of those issues in his interview with Fox News.
"I've admitted to drinking too much. Okay. So I'm dealing with it, I'm training every day, I'm in the gym two hours every day," Ford said. "I'm seeking professional help, I'm not an alcoholic, I'm not a drug addict. Have I had my outbursts in the past? Absolutely. But you know what, I'm only human. I've made mistakes. I've apologized."
He also added: "Yes, one day I do want to run for prime minister."
Coincidentally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper — like Ford a Conservative — was due in Toronto on Monday to meet with area Parliament members from his party. Harper has been a guest at an annual summer barbecue hosted by Ford and his family, but has had little to say in public about the mayor's ongoing troubles.
With Ford refusing to step aside, even temporarily, the City Council took its first steps to weaken his powers on Friday, voting 39-3 to suspend his authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and the executive committee. The council also voted to give the deputy mayor authority to handle any civic emergency.
George Rust-D'Eye, a municipal law expert hired by Ford a municipal law expert, said he will not seek an injunction to block City Council from going forward with Monday's power-stripping motion. Rust-D'Eye said he will meet with the mayor to discuss what to do after the council debates.
"What they are proposing to do is make him into a deputy mayor. I think they have to respect the wishes of the electorate," Rust-D'Eye said.
Ford's brother and adviser, councilman Doug Ford, called him "the mayor of the people" and said the rights of those who voted for him were being trampled.
Ford, 44, was elected three years ago with overwhelming support from Toronto's conservative-leaning outer suburbs, where many voters felt angry about what they considered wasteful spending and elitist politics at City Hall. He campaigned on promises to "stop the gravy train" by curbing public spending and keeping taxes low.