TORONTO – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford began a leave of absence and headed for a rehab center Thursday, leaving his scandalized city in the dark about his political future after a report surfaced of a second video of him apparently smoking crack cocaine.
Ford announced Wednesday that he would take leave for an unspecified amount of time from both his mayoral post and his re-election campaign, but he did not abandon his bid for a second term as mayor of Canada’s second largest city. One of his campaign rivals and other Toronto politicians demanded he resign. Toronto police said they were looking into the new video, which was reported by the Globe and Mail newspaper.
A day after announcing his decision, Ford boarded a plane for Chicago headed for a treatment program that will last at least 30 days, his lawyer Dennis Morris told The Associated Press. Morris declined to say if Chicago was his final destination.
The mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that Ford would enter a 30-day inpatient treatment at one of the best rehab facilities in North America but he declined to name the location. Morris said the 30 days could be extended.
On Thursday morning, Ford left his west-end Toronto home in a two car-convoy without answering questions from reporters. His nephew was seen leaving the home with a suitcase.
Ford, who was elected four years ago on a wave of support from Toronto’s conservative suburbs, has for months been the subject of a drug-related police investigation, but he has not been charged with any crime. The Toronto City Council stripped him of most of his powers last year.
In a statement Wednesday, he acknowledged having a problem with alcohol and said he would seek help – but he did not address the reported video or make any reference to crack cocaine.
“I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence,” Ford said in statement late Wednesday. “I have tried to deal with these issues by myself over the past year. I know that I need professional help and I am now 100% committed to getting myself right.”
The Globe and Mail newspaper said it has viewed a second video of Ford smoking what appears to be crack cocaine in his sister’s basement. The national newspaper said two Globe reporters viewed the video from a self-professed drug dealer showing Ford taking a drag from a pipe early Saturday morning.
The video is part “of a package of three videos the dealer said was surreptitiously filmed around 1:15 a.m., and which he says he is now selling for ‘at least six figures,’” the paper reported. The Globe published still photos from the video and said it paid $10,000 to the drug dealer.
News reports of an earlier video of Ford apparently smoking crack first surfaced last May. The mayor denied the existence of that video for months but after police said they had obtained it, Ford acknowledged that he smoked crack in a “drunken stupor.” He rebuffed intense pressure to resign and launched his re-election bid earlier this year. The first video has never been released to the public.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the latest developments reinforced his belief that Ford had no chance of re-election and was likely to withdraw from the race.
“This will peel away a few more voters,” Wiseman said. “People do not like being lied to, repeatedly, to their faces.”
Earlier, Doug Ford choked back tears as he addressed reporters.
“Rob was very emotional when he told me the hardest thing about this is he knows he let people down. He let his family down, he let his friends down, he let his colleagues down, he let his supporters down and the people of Toronto,” said Doug Ford, who is also the mayor’s campaign manager.
In a letter to the city clerk indicating he would take a leave of absence, Ford did not specify the length of his leave, saying only that he will provide updates on his status, according to Jackie DeSouza, a spokeswoman for the City of Toronto.
Ford has careened from one scandal to another, including public drunkenness and threatening “murder” in a videotaped rant.
His friend and former driver Alexander Lisi is facing extortion charges over alleged attempts to retrieve the first crack video from an alleged gang member. Recently released police documents note that meetings between Ford and Lisi are “indicative to that of drug trafficking” and that the two have been in constant contact during the investigation.
On Wednesday, The Toronto Sun said that it had obtained an audio recording of Ford making offensive remarks about other politicians at a bar on Monday night, including his election rival Karen Stintz.
“Rob Ford’s comments are gross,” Stintz said. “Toronto is tired of being gripped in this sad, sad mess.”
Another candidate in the Oct. 27 race, John Tory, said the mayor should resign “for the good of the city.” City Councilor John Parker said Ford should “go and never come back. Things have gone too far.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office said Ford’s “comments and behavior are very troubling” and said they “are pleased to hear the Mayor has entered rehab.”
Wiseman, the political science professor, said constant media attention has created a false impression that the mayor’s political support remains strong.
“Because he’s such a fascinating individual, he’s a perfect storm for the media, and for people who are taken with celebrities,” Wiseman said. “But the people who want selfies with him are looking for entertainment. Those are not people who are going to go door to door for him.”
Grace Skogstad, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto’s campus in Scarborough, one of the amalgamated suburbs where Ford has been most popular, said the mayor likely blew his chances for redemption by waiting too long to seek help.
“He still has some fans,” Skogstad said. “Had he sought the kind of help he needed earlier, he could have had a fighting chance for re-election.”
Sairah Nazir, 34, a mother of two who lives in Ford’s suburb of Etobicoke, said she would not be voting for him again.
“He does do stuff for the community, that’s why I like him but at the same time he needs to show he’s improving his image,” she said. “He may take a decision that’s not in the best interests of our community when he’s not in his right mind.”