TORONTO – Toronto’s City Council voted Monday to strip scandal-plagued Mayor Rob Ford of many of his powers following a heated debate in which he knocked over a female councilor.
Council members voted overwhelming to cut the 44-year-old Ford’s office budget by 60 percent and allow mayoral staff to join the deputy mayor. Ford now effectively has no legislative power as he would no longer chair the executive committee.
Ford retains his title and ability to represent Toronto at official functions. Ford called the effort a “coup d’etat” and vowed an “outright war” in the next election.
Toronto has been abuzz with the Ford melodrama since May, when news outlets reported that he had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine.
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 charged the gallery and knocked over Councilor Pam McConnell before picking her back up.
Another councilor asked Ford to apologize. Ford said he was rushing to the defense of his brother, city Councilor Doug Ford.
“I picked her up,” Rob Ford said. “I ran around because I thought my brother was getting into an altercation.”
Visibly shaken after Ford ran her over, McConnell, a petite woman in her 60s, said she never expected the chaos that broke out.
“This is the seat of democracy, it is not a football field. I just wasn’t ready. Fortunately, the mayor’s staff was in front – they stopped me from hitting my head against the wall. I just need to sit down,” McConnell said.
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.”
“Obviously I cannot do the job with eight people in the office with a quarter of the former mayor’s budget,” Ford said.
The council does not have the power to remove Ford from office unless he is convicted of a crime. It is pursuing the strongest recourse available after the recent drug abuse revelations 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?” said Councilor John Filion. “The mayor unfortunately has chosen the path of denial. 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,” Filion said,
Ford contends that councilors acted because they opposed his agenda to save taxpayers’ money. “If they want me out, they should just call a snap election,” Ford told radio station AM640.
The council rejected a motion proposing such an election, and also rejected a motion to give Ford another month to get an expert medical opinion on whether he was capable of carrying out his duties.
Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former Ford ally, said it’s about the mayor’s conduct.
“This is about embarrassing the city, his involvement with gangs, his involvement with crack cocaine. This is 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.”
Recently released court documents show the mayor became the subject of a police investigation after reports surfaced in May of a video showing him smoking crack cocaine. 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.
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.
Ford 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.