TORONTO — Mayor Rob Ford left home Thursday hours after announcing plans to take leave to deal with his substance-abuse problems amid a triple dose of scandalizing revelations that have raised further questions about his fitness for office.
Confronted with reports of a recent video showing him allegedly smoking crack cocaine, an audio recording of the mayor spewing profanities and making lewd comments about a fellow mayoral contender, and witness accounts of him snorting cocaine at a city nightclub, Ford said he would be seeking “immediate help.”
“He’s a broken man. He’s got a lot of demons,” Ford’s lawyer Dennis Morris told The Canadian Press.
“He realizes that he’s not well and in need of help. He’s just running off the rails. That’s something he now appreciates.”
Ford did not speak to reporters in front of his home as he left in a two-car convoy Thursday morning.
A private plane flew him to Chicago, Global TV reported, while CBC cited his brother as saying Ford would be spending 30 days at an unspecified addictions facility.
At a news conference Thursday, an emotional Doug Ford said facing your problems and deciding to seek help is not easy.
“I told Rob that everyone knows someone who has faced these challenges and I know they will wish him well and a speedy recovery,” he said.
The scandal-plagued mayor’s latest woes began late Wednesday, with a trio of damaging newspaper reports that raised new questions about his conduct.
The Globe and Mail said a drug dealer had shown two of its reporters video of Ford allegedly smoking what was said to be crack in the basement of his sister’s home early Saturday morning.
The paper said it paid $10,000 for frame grabs showing Ford holding a copper pipe.
American website Gawker.com, which first broke word of a video purportedly showing Ford smoking crack cocaine a year ago, published similar photos. Gawker said it had rejected a drug dealer’s request for “six figures” for videos.
Then, in an audio recording from a bar obtained by the Toronto Sun, Ford is heard making anti-gay remarks, using an offensive ethnic slur, and saying he would like to “jam” rival candidate Karen Stintz.
The mayor said he didn’t remember the events but confirmed being at the bar, the Sun reported.
In a third report, the Toronto Star published details of “two nights of utter debauchery” involving Ford at a Toronto nightclub a few weeks ago.
At one point, the paper said, Ford almost got into an altercation with pop idol Justin Bieber, who jokingly asked the mayor if he had any crack cocaine with him.
Ford has steadfastly refused to step down and had insisted for months that he is neither an addict nor an alcoholic.
But in a statement late Wednesday, he said “I have a problem with alcohol and the choices I have made while under the influence.”
“I have tried to deal with these issues by myself over the past year. I know that I need professional help and I am now 100 per cent committed to getting myself right.”
Despite his announced leave from both the mayor’s office and his re-election campaign, Ford will apparently remain in the running for October’s municipal vote.
Jackie DeSouza, Toronto’s communications director, said the mayor had notified the city about the leave but not how long he would be away.
That left Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who has been doing most of Ford’s job since council stripped him of most of his mayoral duties last year, firmly in charge.
Kelly, who denounced Ford’s actions as “inexcusable,” called the situation a “personal tragedy” and not a “crisis of government.”
Ford’s main left-wing mayoral rival for the October vote, Olivia Chow, called his behaviour an international embarrassment.
“It’s clear Mr. Ford is sick,” Chow said Thursday. “As a mayor, however, he had his chance.”
Stintz condemned Ford’s audiotaped “misogynistic” and “disgusting” comments.
“I’m not interested in an empty apology — we’ve heard too many of those,” Stintz said.
Last year, Ford admitted to using crack cocaine while in a “drunken stupor” but has long since said he had cleaned up his act and was working out.
However, he was forced to admit drinking after another videotaped incident in which he used Jamaican swear words and slagged the city’s chief of police.
Police began investigating Ford after a guns and gangs probe turned up wiretaps that allegedly captured conversations about the first “crack” video. A friend of Ford’s has been charged with extortion related to attempts to retrieve the video.
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said “investigators would be interested to see the new information.”