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Toronto council strips mayor of most powers

6:39 PM, Nov 18, 2013   |    comments
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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leaves his office heads back to the city council meeting held on November 15, 2013 at City Hall. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Toronto City Council, appalled by Mayor Rob Ford's crack-smoking, drinking and boorish behavior, voted Monday evening to slash his budget and further reduce his powers, leaving him largely a figurehead leader of Canada's largest city.

The 44-member council voted overwhelmingly to cut Ford's $1.9 million office budget to $712,000 and give the deputy mayor control over the money and Ford's dramatically reduced staff.

"Well folks, if you think American-style politics is nasty, you guys have just attacked Kuwait," Ford said. "Mark my words, friends, this is going to be outright war in the next election and I'm going to do everything in my power, everything in my power to beat you guys."

The extraordinary all-day meeting dissolved into a shouting match among the public gallery, the mayor and his council-member brother, Doug Ford, who called spectators "scumbags."

When the public gallery began chanting, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" the mayor charged toward a spectator, nearly knocking down a councilor. He taunted the crowd, shouting, "Is that affecting your grants?"

His brother called out to spectators, "You're a disgrace! Let's get the real taxpayers down here!"

After a 10-minute recess, Speaker Frances Nunziata warned that if there were any more outbursts, she would call security officers to clear the chamber of everyone, including the media and council members.

She said she felt compelled to call the recess because the meeting "was out of hand."

The council does not have the power to remove the 44-year-old mayor from office outright but has curbed his authority in key areas. Last week, it stripped him of the power to appoint committees and took away his powers during a city emergency.

"It's a coup d'etat - that's all this is," Ford said as he arrived Monday at City Hall. "Democracy is being trampled on right now."

During a radio interview in the morning, Ford suggested the council call a "snap election" - a 30-day candidate sign-up, then a 60-day campaign.

"Let the voters decide," he said.

There was some skirmishing early as the meeting got underway.

"I will not play a part of this illegal meeting," council member Giorgio Mammoliti, who was seated next to Ford, told the chambers.

"The whole idea is to stabilize the executive for the balance of the term," Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said this weekend, according to the Toronto Sun. "All along I've been arguing the legislative part of city government is working just fine, but it was the executive function that was beginning to fray."

He said that when the council won't have to worry the next time a bombshell hits. "We end all the anxiety about what the heck is going to happen next," Kelly said.

The combative Ford has warned that he will fight the council's moves in court in a legal battle that would cost taxpayers "an arm and a leg."

Ford has been embroiled in controversy since last year after stories on the U.S. website Gawker and in the Toronto Star that he had been videotaped smoking crack cocaine. He denied the allegations strongly until two weeks ago when Toronto police said they had obtained the video. Ford then acknowledged he had indeed smoked crack but it had happened during a "drunken stupor." He denied being an addict.

Until last week, the council had gone relatively easy on the mayor, only calling on him to take a leave of absence.

Then last week, more bombshells erupted, starting with the release of court documents containing allegations made by some of his staff members to police that Ford had partied with prostitutes, and used cocaine and OxyContin.

In an impromptu news conference, Ford erupted, threatening to sue the former staff members and added a crude remark regarding oral sex that shocked the media, many Canadians and - perhaps most important, politically - the council. That, in turn, prompted yet another apology from Ford.

Ford insists he is not going away - quietly or otherwise. He showed up Sunday at the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats CFL Eastern Conference final football game in Toronto, despite a request by the league commissioner that he stay away.

Monday night, the mayor and his brother Doug will star in a new reality TV show called Ford Nation.

He has made the rounds of news shows, taking on his critics, refusing to back down and even outlining political ambitions.

"I take that same approach to politics, so if people want to start bringing up personal stuff, that's fine," he told Fox News. "And, yes, one day I do want to run for prime minister."

Ford blamed the focus on his behavior as the work of political opponents and the media.

"I don't walk away from anybody in life," he told CNN's New Day in an exclusive interview that aired Monday. "All these rich, elitist people, I'm sick of them. They sit up there and no, they're perfect. They don't do nothing. Get out of here, they don't do nothing. They're the biggest crooks around."

Asked why he decided to acknowledge his crack smoking, Ford indicated he wanted to clear the air, then move on:

"I'm not going to run around and be phony and lie," he told CNN. "I'm not going to have someone blackmail me and say they have videos of this over my head. You don't trust what the Toronto Star says. I just had enough. I was sick and tired of the allegations and all the (expletive deleted), excuse my words, that's all it is, sorry, I shouldn't swear in front of kids. You know what? I made mistakes, I drank too much. I smoked some crack sometime. What can I say? I made a mistake, I'm guilty."

Like many major cities, Toronto has a city manager whose role is to provide guidance and advice to the City Council and to coordinate the work of departments.

This month, City Manager Joe Pennachetti sent a memo to employees stressing that the city is not "in crisis" during the Ford scandal, the Toronto Sun reported.

"I understand that these issues have created some distraction," Pennachetti wrote. "However, I also know that these issues are neither about the Toronto Public Service nor a reflection of the hard work and commitment that city staff consistently display on a daily basis, and for some of you, 24/7."


Associated Press

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