TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed on Tuesday he would stay away from drugs, alcohol and “bad company” as he tries to rebound from a drug scandal that prompted city council to strip away much of his power.
Ford, who insists he is neither an alcoholic nor a drug addict, said he had not had a drink in three weeks. Asked on Toronto news channel CP24 if he had stopped drinking completely, he said: “Guaranteed. 100 percent.”
Ford made the comments one day after the city council voted to remove much of his power. Several of his key staff announced on Tuesday they would leave and begin working for the deputy mayor, who will take on more responsibility.
Ford, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine, buying illegal drugs and driving after drinking alcohol, also said he would not use drugs again and answered in the affirmative when asked if he would stay away from “bad company.”
While the scandal involving the mayor has largely swirled around his admission that he had smoked crack, he has also been the subject of a police investigation which photographed him in several meetings with his friend and part-time driver Sandro Lisi, who now faces drug and extortion charges.
Ford was elected in 2010 on a cost-cutting, low-tax platform, and he remains popular in some suburbs of Toronto.
While Ford has faced much criticism from city politicians, members of Canada’s Conservative federal government have until now been far less vocal.
But on Tuesday one of the most powerful cabinet members, Employment Minister Jason Kenney, called for his resignation.
“Mr. Ford has brought dishonor to public office, and the office of mayor and his city,” he told reporters, while noting that this was a municipal and not a federal affair, and that this was his personal point of view.
“I had wanted him to take a leave of absence, but unfortunately the situation has deteriorated to the point where I think he should resign,” he said in French.
Ford’s TV appearance was part of a two-day media blitz - which included CNN, NBC and Fox - apparently aimed at shifting the focus from the scandal to next year’s municipal election, which Ford says he will contest. He did not respond to requests from Reuters for an interview.
In a raucous meeting on Monday, the council voted to cut Ford’s office budget and transfer leadership of the city’s executive committee to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.
That followed votes on Friday that suspended Ford’s authority to dismiss the deputy mayor and the heads of council committees and removed his powers to act during emergencies.
Ford, who called council’s efforts a “coup d‘etat”, told CP24 he would fight the move in court.
“They basically want to take over the government. It’s illegal what they’ve done,” he said.
Kelly told reporters that 11 of Ford’s 20 staff members opted to jump to the deputy mayor’s office, including Ford’s director of policy and his chief of staff, and that the city had already changed the locks on some of the office space previously occupied by the mayor’s staff.
The revelations about Ford began in May when two media outlets said they had seen video of him smoking from what appeared to be a crack pipe. The spotlight has increased since Ford admitted two weeks ago to having used crack.
He has become a staple of late-night talk show jokes, while his behavior has prompted concern about his fitness to lead the city. In council on Monday, Ford stalked around the meeting room, getting into an angry verbal exchange with gallery spectators, some of whom shouted “Shame! Shame!” at him.
In an added indignity, Canada’s right-wing Sun News Network said it was cancelling a show featuring the mayor and his brother, city councilor Doug Ford, a day after its debut.
With additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Jim Loney