The mayor of Toronto has finally admitted smoking crack cocaine but he attempted to explain it away by claiming he was drunk at the time. "[It was] probably in one of my drunken stupors," he said.
Rob Ford surprised Toronto by announcing that he would run for re-election after promising "these mistakes will never, ever, ever happen again." In a six-minute press conference, he asked his constituents to forgive him and proclaimed that "the past is the past.”
The performance was extraordinary for many reasons, but most of all because the brazen manner in which Ford handled himself in the midst of controversy was entirely predictable.
To take a step back and summarize: Last week, due to the court-ordered release of several hundred pages of information gathered by police, Torontonians learned that their mayor was the subject of a major police investigation into allegations surrounding drug use and the existence of a video in which he reportedly makes homophobic and racist remarks, and then smokes crack cocaine. The investigation has involved up to 20 police officers and multiple forms of surveillance, including pole cameras, car trackers, and a plane which for a time followed the mayor. It is also ongoing, and Rob Ford has so far declined to cooperate; police have sought meetings with him on several occasions and on the advice of his lawyer he has refused.
That same morning, Toronto's chief of police announced that the force was in possession of several videos, including the crack video, that had been recovered from a hard drive police collected in the course of a major gang investigation. The chief further announced that a close friend of the mayor's, Alexander Lisi, was being charged with extortion in connection with attempts to retrieve the video. In the course of the press conference a reporter asked the chief how he felt about this, as a private citizen, and the chief replied: "disappointed."
Three days later the mayor and his brother Doug Ford, who is also a city councilor, went on the air for their scheduled weekly radio show. In the opening minutes Rob Ford apologized to residents for unspecified "mistakes"; later in the show he elaborated that he meant two incidents in which he was drunk ("hammered" and "out of control") in public. He did not address the matter of the homophobic and racist remarks, the ongoing police investigation into his activities, the extortion charge against his friend, or the months he had spent denying that any video existed. He promised that he would curb his drinking, and his brother chimed in to add that the appropriate course of action in future would be for the mayor to drink in his own basement.
Tuesday morning Doug Ford publicly condemned the police chief for saying he was disappointed, and called on him to step aside from his job temporarily. In light of all this, it's also worth noting that Toronto is about to enter its annual budget cycle; the mayor and his brother will soon be asked to vote on the police department's budget, which is roughly $1 billion. That is, the mayor will be asked to vote on the budget allocation for the police department that is currently investigating him.
That development was quickly overshadowed by the news that several city councilors, among them several former allies of the mayor, were circulating motions that would censure the mayor and temporarily strip his office of most of its powers. Those motions will be coming before city council in the coming weeks for a debate that will be held in public, and presided over by one of the mayor's closest allies. Those motions, in turn, were almost immediately trumped by the news that the mayor had, in what appeared to be an unplanned scrum, admitted that he had, in fact, smoked crack cocaine. He framed this admission by saying that the media had been at fault for not phrasing their questions on the matter clearly, and then quickly assured everyone he was sorry and getting back to work. While this was going on an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that the court was not prohibited by law from releasing wiretap information gathered in the course of that major gang investigation—information which is believed will shed new light on the mayor and his activities.
That was Tuesday until about 12:24 p.m.
The mayor's suite of office is located on the second floor of Toronto City Hall. Reporters call it "the fishbowl": the building is curved, and the entire area is fronted by glass. When the mayor refuses to address the media, which is often, reporters gather outside and watch the comings and goings through that glass, having no more details to report than who has entered whose office. Word came that the mayor would be convening a full press conference and as has become customary, reporters gathered by the glass doors at the office's reception desk. There was an hour-long wait, captured in numerous live video feeds; thousands of Torontonians followed along as dozens of reporters tweeted about their draining batteries and the latest poll numbers. Rumors circulated that the mayor would finally accept his colleagues' advice and take a leave of absence.
City Hall is a large building, and there are several large, open spaces more suited to holding press conferences. (They were customarily used by the previous administration, for instance.) Ford has generally held meetings in his suite, however, in what's called the "protocol lounge" just outside his private office. It's small, windowless, and reporters were packed into it so tightly some were crawling under camera tripods just to try to get a glimpse of the mayor. When he did, he told Toronto: "Folks, I have nothing left to hide." It is odd but entirely true that the question of whether the mayor smoked crack, now confirmed by the man himself, has been rendered a comparatively small matter in a vast and growing constellation of questions.
There is no indication that this will end anytime soon, and no clear sense of what happens next in Toronto. Lawyers representing several media outlets will be before the court again on Friday, pressing for the release of more documents from the two police investigations bearing on all this. City council meets next week, and a lunchtime rally is planned for residents who want to call on the mayor to resign. I asked one councilor whether, in the wake of the mayor's afternoon press conference, there was a consensus emerging on council about those motions stripping the mayor of his powers. The reply: "Naw. Everyone is wandering around stunned."