TORONTO — A period of decidedly unCanadian scandal marked by outrageous, offensive, bizarre and frequently entertaining conduct took yet another circus-like twist Friday when an ailing Rob Ford ended his bid for re-election as mayor, opting instead to run for city council.
Voters, however, will still be able to choose a Ford to lead the country’s largest city as his councillor brother, Doug, entered the mayoral race in his stead.
With a crush of reporters and photographers straining to keep up with the developments, city hall papers showed the mayor had taken his name off the ballot for next month’s vote just ahead of an official deadline to do so.
“People know me as a guy who faces things head on and never gives up,” Ford said in a statement issued a short while later.
“Now I could be facing a battle of my lifetime, and I want the people of Toronto to know that I intend to face this challenge head on.”
Ford, who said his heart was heavy at having to end his mayoral bid to focus on his health, is instead running in his west-end ward, where his nephew Michael Ford had been registered to run before he pulled out.
In his statement, Ford said his older sibling had been by his side from the start and shared his vision for the city.
“I have asked Doug to run to become the next mayor of Toronto, because we need him,” Ford’s statement said. “We cannot go backwards.”
Doug Ford, 49, had little to say as he registered, but promised to talk to reporters later in the day.
“I signed, I’ll be running for mayor,” he said.
The pugnacious councillor, his brother’s staunchest defender and closest adviser, has himself clashed with the city’s chief of police, and frequently claimed an ongoing drug-and-gang investigation of his younger brother was politically motivated.
The dizzying round of political musical chairs followed two days of medical drama involving Ford, 45, whose admissions of crack-cocaine use, binge drinking and profanities have made him a household name across much of North America and recognizable around the world.
Ford had been admitted to hospital on Wednesday after complaining for months of abdominal pain.
After doctors discovered a “fair sized” tumour, they transferred him to a second downtown hospital on Thursday, where he underwent an biopsy on the growth and was slated to undergo further testing Friday.
Dr. Zane Cohen, an internationally recognized colorectal surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital, said it would be about a week before it was known whether the tumour was cancerous.
Discovery of the tumour came just over two months after Ford returned to office from a stint in rehab that followed a scandal-plagued year in which he was forced to admit to using crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor,” was caught on video and audio recordings in profanity-laced rants, and became the target of a police investigation.
His litany of woes, gaffes and outrageous conduct made him an international celebrity and word of his illness garnered coverage around the globe.
Still, the often larger than life mayor — elected in 2010 on the strength of his cri-de-coeur of “it’s time to stop the gravy train” — continued to campaign for re-election even as he trailed in polls for the Oct. 27 vote but nonetheless remained a viable candidate.
Ultimately, however, faced with the prospect of a cancer diagnosis and a long treatment regimen, Ford said he was stepping aside, leaving his so-called Ford Nation of die-hard followers to cast about for a new candidate.
Social media erupted at the news, sparking gleeful reaction along with expressions of regret.
“Man I actually feel so bad for Rob Ford,” one person tweeted.
“I was really looking forward to watching Rob Ford be defeated by a democratic vote,” another tweeted. “Sadly, our city will now be deprived of that moment.”