Toronto Mayor Rob Ford told reporters Thursday that he’s not stepping aside and plans to run in the next election, while ignoring calls to provide answers to the latest questions about an alleged drug video that he denies exists.
Ford spoke with reporters after two more staff members abruptly left his office on Thursday, following on the heels of three of their colleagues who departed in recent days.
The mayor thanked the staffers for their service and said he plans to hire replacements in the near future.
The mayor was emphatic that "the work is being done, phone calls are being returned, emails being responded to" in his office.
The first question lobbed at Ford was whether he had ever used illegal drugs while serving as mayor of Toronto.
"Anything else?" Ford responded, using a phrase that he would repeat several more times as reporters asked him about the drug video allegations.
Ford defended his record as mayor and reiterated plans to seek the mayor's job in next year's municipal election.
"I'm not stepping aside, I’m running in the next election and if the great people of this city want to go in a different direction, that’s what their prerogative is," Ford said.
He vowed that he would register for the mayoral race on the first day possible.
Reports first emerged two weeks ago that a video showed Ford smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. The mayor initially called those allegations untrue and "ridiculous," later denying the video’s existence. He has also said he does not use crack cocaine and is not addicted to it.
Since then, Ford has seen five staff members depart from his office, including two press secretaries who resigned. His former chief of staff said he was fired. A policy adviser, Brian Johnston, and Ford's executive assistant, Kia Nejatian, left his office on Thursday.
On Thursday afternoon, the mayor’s office released a brief statement confirming that Johnston and Nejatian "are no longer employed in the Office of the Mayor." That came prior to his remarks to reporters.
In a telephone interview, Coun. Josh Matlow told CBC News Network it appeared to him that Ford's office is now "completely dysfunctional," with the departures being an indication that "he has obviously lost the confidence of the people who work for him for whatever reason."
Coun. Gary Crawford, a member of Ford's executive committee, called the five recent staff departures "an alarming and concerning issue" in the mayor’s office.
Also Thursday, Toronto police announced they had charged a second man with first-degree murder in the killing of 21-year-old Anthony Smith, who appears beside Ford in a photo that is at the centre of the video controversy.
Hanad Mohamed, 23, of Toronto, was arrested in Fort McMurray, Alta., police said Thursday.
He will appear in a Toronto court Friday on a charge of first-degree murder.
Nisar Hashimi, 23, is also charged with first-degree murder in the Smith shooting after turning himself in to police in April.
Smith was killed outside a King Street nightclub in Toronto on March 28. It appears Smith has his arm around Ford in a widely circulated photo provided to the U.S. gossip website Gawker and the Toronto Star by the same people who showed them the alleged video of Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine.
A Thursday report in the Toronto Star alleges the mayor told staffers the location of the video, right down to the addresses and unit numbers in a Dixon Road apartment complex in Toronto.
The Star is citing sources who claim to be privy to a meeting in Ford's office on May 17, where the mayor allegedly passed on the information.
While the mayor did not speak to the media, his brother Coun. Doug Ford told reporters that the most recent Star report was a "false accusation," which he said was simply the result of the newspaper "trying to keep this story alive."
Asked how long he believed the mayor could survive the relentless scrutiny, Ford said his brother would keep on "all the way to the next election" in October of next year.
Some of the mayor's fellow members of council say the video allegations have been a distraction for both the mayor and the city.
On Thursday, Coun. John Parker said the mayor has to provide answers to the questions that people are asking.
"The mayor would serve his own cause best if he came out and forthrightly addressed all the questions that are arising out of this matter," Parker said.
Coun. James Pasternak said the interactions between the mayor and the media over the alleged video and the questions about it are now a daily distraction.
"It is a problem, it is a distraction, it’s damaging to the city. It is taking us off our message of city building. The longer it lasts, the more destructive it becomes, and it’s not healthy for the city," he said Thursday, just moments before the mayor walked into his office.
The alleged video has not been made public, though Gawker raised $200,000 in funds that it hopes to use to obtain the recording from someone who had been shopping it.
Ford was elected as Toronto’s mayor in 2010. Before that, he served as a city councillor in Etobicoke, the Toronto suburb where he lives with his family.
Since taking office, Ford has made headlines for his work at city hall, as well as his private life. He turned 44 on Tuesday.