"Weak mayor" system keeps Toronto ticking through crack controversy

Thu May 30, 2013 7:09pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - Between the army of reporters camped at his door and an exodus of top aides, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has endured a tough two weeks since allegations surfaced that he was caught smoking crack cocaine on video, something he staunchly denies.

For North America's fourth-largest city, however, it's been mostly business as usual thanks to a "weak mayor" political system that limits the executive's influence and puts more power in the hands of the city council. Council meetings on city business and other day-to-day operations have carried on regardless of the ruckus at City Hall.

To pass a motion in council, the Toronto mayor must secure the support of a majority of councilors. And if the council votes against his wishes, Ford has no power to veto or overturn that decision.

"The mayor is the chief executive officer - he presides at meetings and is the person that does ribbon cuttings," said John Mascarin, a municipal law expert with Aird & Berlis LLP in Toronto. "But the mayor generally doesn't have more than a single vote at council."

The post is more ceremonial than in other large North American cities like New York and Chicago where mayors have the power to veto any bill approved by the city councils. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has embraced the "strong mayor" system to advance his public health agenda, including requiring fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts and barring restaurants from cooking with trans fats.

No stranger to controversy in his political career, Ford made international headlines after the Toronto Star and Gawker Media reported on May 16 that they had seen a video that purports to show the mayor using illegal drugs.

Ford issued a denial on Friday after several city councilors and allies encouraged him to confront the issue directly.

"There has been a serious accusation from the Toronto Star that I use crack cocaine. I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine," he told a news conference.   Continued...

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford holds a press conference at City Hall in Toronto, May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch