Toronto’s disgraced mayor Rob Ford went down fighting as the city council stripped him of most of his remaining powers, taunting hecklers as “punks”, comparing his punishment to a military invasion and knocking over a councillor as he charged across the chamber.
In the latest chapter of an ugly, embarrassing saga in Canada’s biggest city and economic hub, Ford was reduced to largely a figurehead following the latest sanctions against him for his admissions of smoking crack and binge drinking.
But Ford remained defiant and again refused to step down.
“You are absolutely telling everybody that voted in the last municipal election that their vote does not count,” he said.
Comparing the council’s decision to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he added: “Well folks, if you think American-style politics is nasty, you guys have just attacked Kuwait.”
Leading up to the vote, debate on the motion descended into farce. Ford taunted hecklers in the public gallery, deriding them as “punks.” At one point he accidentally bowled over a female councillor as he charged across the chamber.
The civic leaders of Canada’s largest city had already voted last week to curb Ford’s official duties. On Monday they went further in order to “restore the confidence of the public in the government of Toronto,” according to the deputy mayor.
But Ford, who has apologised for his hell-raising lifestyle and for obscene public outbursts, refuses to quit, has spoken of taking court action and said the only judgment he should face is that of voters at the ballot box next year.
“This is going to be outright war,” said the mayor, who has faced a swell of outrage over a litany of misdeeds, both admitted and alleged, since police last month revealed they had video footage of him smoking crack.
Ford admitted he had smoked the illicit drug and apologised for his antics, including what he described as his many “drunken stupors.”
New allegations of misconduct, disclosed last week, and his lewd remarks in denying sexual harassment claims deepened the scandal, prompting widespread calls for his resignation.
However, in an interview aired late on Monday with public broadcaster CBC, Ford said he had not touched alcohol in three weeks and would never drink again.
He was to give an interview on US television on Tuesday morning on ABC.
Debate over the motion to curb the mayor’s powers was marked by rowdy outbursts and argumentative to-and-fro between councillors and Ford’s dwindling band of supporters.
Ford swung in his chair and pantomimed one councillor’s alleged drinking and driving, and stood to confront hecklers in the public gallery.
Having said he thought his brother Doug, who is also a city councillor, “was getting into an altercation,” he ran across the chamber and somehow knocked a grey-haired female councillor to the floor. She appeared rattled but uninjured as Ford, a former football linebacker, broke off to help her to her feet.
While council overwhelmingly voted to cut the mayor’s budget and staff, a few expressed concerns, saying it is “illegal and anti-democratic,” “craziness” and de facto removing the mayor from office.
“This is a modern-day overthrow of an elected official. This is wrong,” said the mayor’s brother.
Moments before the start of the emergency council meeting, the motion sanctioning Ford was slightly watered down, for fear it went too far.
In its aftermath, the mayor now maintains a smaller office budget and a handful of aides, and keeps a seat on the city’s executive council.
He can also still attend official functions as Toronto’s mayor. But the deputy mayor assumes most of his other responsibilities.
The prime minister’s office said it “does not condone illegal drug use, especially by elected officials while in office,” but added it would continue to work with Ford.
Others praised the council’s unprecedented move.
“We have clipped his wings. His ability to do damage at city council now is curtailed,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc.
Over the weekend, Ford made the rounds of the US media to try to convey his side of the story, to general incredulity, and attended a Toronto Argonauts football game where fans cheered him on.
He maintained, however: “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m not a drug addict.”
Of his critics, he said: “The haters are going to be the haters.”