Mayor Rob Ford’s crack scandal and relationships with known criminals were brought to centre stage during the second mayoral debate Thursday after the infamous controversies remained mere elephants in the room during Wednesday’s initial debate.

“I’m not perfect,” Ford began in response to an audience question about his recent antics of swearing and stumbling outside city hall. “Maybe everyone here is, maybe you are, but I’m right because I have a proven, proven track record of success.”

It wasn’t just the audience – though heckling and shouts abounded throughout — that focused on the mayor’s tumultuous year tonight, but the candidates and moderator as well.

For all the international headlines and scandal that has come during Ford’s time in office, Wednesday’s debate focused a lot on policy, with the scandals taking a back seat to topics like transit. The words “crack cocaine” were not mentioned at the City News hosted first debate until later in the evening when a reporter, not panellist, asked about the crack scandal.

However, the tone changed at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management Thursday night.

During the opening remarks, John Tory made his stance on Ford clearer. He said that aside from Ford showing up late to work, or not showing up at all, the “most troubling and unacceptable” thing was the mayor’s “continuing relationships with convicted criminals and gang types. The various people he has pledged to keep off our streets.”

Ford later responded, thanking Tory in a tongue in cheek way for his “kind” words.

Earlier in the evening, Coun. Karen Stintz said the debate and election were more about who Toronto wanted as mayor and was “not a referendum on Rob Ford.”

Former Toronto councillor David Soknacki took on Ford’s repeated assertion that he has saved the city “billions” of dollars, saying that was purely in his imagination.

Olivia Chow was absent due to a prior commitment and concerns on the neutrality of the moderator, Ralph Lean.  Lean, a conservative lawyer, had previously said he would raise money for Ford’s campaign but has since stepped out of Ford’s camp and rescinded that offer.

Lean had said he wanted to leave a chair on stage empty for Chow, adding that he doubted her excuse for missing the debate. However, Ford said he did not want to take shots at Chow, or anyone who was not there to defend themselves.