The Toronto City Council made Washington seem normal on Wednesday. For all the dysfunction in the United States’ s capitol, it seemed like a model of good government next to the usually scandal free burg of Toronto. Wednesday’s showdown between crack smoking Mayor Rob Ford and the Toronto City Council had confrontations, confessions of drug use and, of course, being Canada, ample passive-aggressiveness.
Rob Ford, the doughy Mayor of Toronto who has been labeled “Mayor McCrack” after admitting to smoking crack cocaine in “a drunken stupor” faced tough questioning and criticism from colleagues about allegations of drug abuse, violence, racism and alcoholism that have made him an international laughing stock. The City Council was debating a motion that would put a stop to this behavior once and for all and draw a line in the sand. After all, “the whole world was watching” said Councilman Denzil Minnan-Wong. A former political ally of the mayor, Minnan-Wong thought enough was enough and introduced a resolution that “urge[d] Mayor Rob Ford to take a temporary leave of absence to address his personal issues, then return to lead the City in the capacity for which he was elected.”
This language shows how heated the debate had gotten by Canadian standards. If the Toronto City Council was still being polite, they would have “requested” Ford to take a temporary leave of absence or even “asked him to consider” doing so. Instead, they urged him. This stands in strong contrast to the United States. When Marion Barry was caught smoking crack while Mayor of Washington, D.C., he wasn’t urged to take a temporary leave of absence. Instead, he was urged to spend six months in prison by federal prosecutors. He found this a very difficult recommendation to refuse.
The entire hearing was a strange spectacle and was often interrupted by shouting from Ford or his brother, City Councilman Doug Ford, who shared their objections while other members where speaking. The meeting was held in the council’s modernist chamber in Toronto’s City Hall. Members of the City Council sat in a semi-circle surrounding the dais, facing individual computer screens mounted on the curving desks for each member. Behind the councilors, there were risers where spectators could sit and watch the political circus unfold. Despite admonitions from the chair, the audience frequently laughed, hissed and cheered the proceedings. In other words, they behaved just like Rob Ford.
The Toronto mayor repeatedly used the phrase “actions speak louder than words” to prove his contriteness and described his media ordeal as “the most humiliating experience that I have ever went through in my entire life.” He emphasized that he had “spoken with professionals” was “moving forward in a positive way.” Ford went on to deny being an alcoholic “or an addict of any sort” and said he was “not quite sure” why colleagues were saying that he needed help.
But Ford’s own words seemed to get him into trouble. When asked point blank if he bought drugs in the past two years, the Toronto mayor paused, waited and eventually said “yes.” Eventually, he claimed that his detractors on the City Council smoked marijuana as a defense for his drug use. Doug Ford repeatedly interrupted Minnan-Wang to ask if the Ford opponent had ever smoked marijuana and the Toronto mayor tried to introduce a motion to mandate that the entire City Council undergo drug and alcohol testing by the end of the month. Rob Ford though took the moral high ground, saying that he would not name names of those on the Council who he knew used illegal drugs “I am not a rat,” he said. Maybe it was this distinction being a a drug user but not a rat that led Ford to describe himself as a “positive role model for kids who are down and out.”
At the same time that the City Council hearing was taking place, court documents revealed new allegations about Ford drinking half of a 40oz bottle of vodka on St Patrick’s Day in the company of a woman who may have been an escort. Afterwards, the Toronto mayor allegedly went to a bar where he snorted cocaine. Unsurprisingly, considering the mayor drank 20 ounces of vodka in one evening, the court documents also apparently included statements from former aides that they believe Ford is an alcoholic. This belief was shared by at least one Ford ally on the City Council. Giorgio Mammoliti of North York stated during the meeting today “I don’t believe [Ford] when he says he’s not addicted.”
The mayor couldn’t rule out the possibility of further scandals, saying “there may be a coat hanger left in my closet.” Although he maintained “everything I’m aware of is out there,” Ford noted with “people videoing this, and doing that” anything is possible.
At the end of the debate, the City Council approved the motion that urged Ford take a leave of absence by a vote of 37-5. However, the vote is non-binding and the Toronto mayor insisted he had “no need to take a leave of absence.” Ford proudly said he had never missed a day of work and never would. His only concession was that he might go to Florida around Christmas with his family for a week. One would think that, on this trip, Ford will be more careful than he was on a 1999 vacation to the Sunshine State when he was arrested for marijuana possession. After all, another drug bust could jeopardize Ford’s chances in his re-election campaign next year.