Rob Ford ducks questions on drug video as new ones emerge
The day after his 44th birthday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was greeted at his city hall office on Wednesday morning by a group of reporters who once again confronted him with questions about an alleged drug video that he denies exists.
"Excuse me, excuse me," the mayor said as he walked towards his office.
Throughout the day, Ford continued to duck their questions. He also chose not to comment on a published report that emerged Wednesday that a request had been made to destroy records within his office — though city officials say no such request was received.
For days, Ford has faced questions about the alleged video, which the Toronto Star and the U.S. gossip website Gawker say shows the mayor smoking what appears to be crack cocaine. Ford has denied the video exists. He has also denied using crack cocaine or being addicted to it.
On Wednesday, the Toronto Star reported on its website that someone had ordered the destruction of electronic telephone and email records that belonged to former members of the mayor's office.
The Star said the records in question belonged to Mark Towhey, George Christopoulos and Isaac Ransom, three senior staffers who have left Ford’s office since news of the video controversy first broke 13 days ago.
Ford ignored questions about the records at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, where he said that staff were available to answer questions about overnight flooding.
"I guess we don’t have any questions about the flood this morning," Ford said, when he was confronted about the latest allegations published by the Star.
"Thank you very much."
A source in the mayor's office told the CBC's Jamie Strashin that deleting records is illegal and is something staff would never do. The source also told Strashin the office has nothing to hide.
And a city spokesperson told CBC News that the mayor's office "did not make a request to the city to destroy records for any of their staff."
'Put up or shut up'
Earlier Wednesday, two of the mayor's closest allies on council said that only the emergence of the alleged drug video can help dissipate the controversy.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told reporters Wednesday that "eventually someone has to put up or shut up," when it comes to the video that published reports say show Ford smoking what appears to be crack cocaine.
Asked to clarify his recent remarks that he believes the Toronto Star reporter who said she saw the video, Holyday said that to him, the lingering controversy isn’t about its existence.
"The thing is whether it’s authentic and whether it’s been altered, and we won’t know that until we get our hands on it," he said.
Holyday said that given the fact that the video has not surfaced, without any "concrete" supporting information, he believes that "this thing has gone far further than it should have."
Coun. Frank Di Giorgio, a member of the mayor’s executive committee, expects that the existence or non-existence of the video will become clear in the days ahead.
"There appears to be a high likelihood that there is a tape," he said Wednesday when speaking with reporters at city hall.
"But again, with the tape actually being brought forward and the authenticity established, we can then move on."
Asked what advice he would give to the mayor, Di Giorgio said that Ford has already staked out the path that he is taking.
"It's very difficult to advise Mayor Ford at this point because he's taken a position and dug in his heels and I think that everything rests on the manifestation of the tape," Di Giorgio said.
The U.S. gossip website Gawker has raised $200,000 in donations to try to buy the video. But the website has reported that it can no longer reach those who had been previously shopping the video.
Video controversy worries Wynne
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said she's worried the ongoing video scandal is affecting the city's ability to make political decisions.
"I'm worried about what's going on at city hall," Wynne said Tuesday. "There's a lot of confusion about what's happening and what is going to happen.
"It's difficult to lead, it's difficult to govern, when the ability to focus is compromised."
Wynne said that for the city to get back on track, the mayor has to deal with his "personal problems."
Wynne's comments came the same day Ontario's former finance minister, Dwight Duncan, who was speaking at the Economic Club, called on Ford to resign, saying the mayor's scandals are damaging the city's reputation.
Duncan added he was confused by the lack of action by city council members and even Queen's Park officials.
Political figures outside city hall have also said the mayor's troubles are hindering council's ability to function properly.
"It's a distraction for city council in dealing with issues that the city badly needs to deal with," said former Toronto mayor Art Eggleton.
"It makes the only office in the city that deals with a citywide vision, the mayor's office, dysfunctional."
Eggleton said the controversy — which has reached international notoriety — is an embarrassment for the city.
Ford was elected as mayor in the fall of 2010. He previously served as a city councillor in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke where he lives with his family.
Since taking office, Ford has frequently made headlines both for his work at city hall and incidents in his personal life.
While pushing to keep a lid on taxes and city spending, Ford has clashed with councillors on key issues, as well as with the media.