How long can the spectacular sideshow that is Rob Ford's tenure as mayor of Toronto continue?
That's the question Toronto residents now face as the saga of their embattled mayor becomes ever more surreal. And the answer, as it turns out, may indeed be forever — or at least until Ford's term expires in 2014.
Before we get to that, we should quickly recap where things stand as of today.
As the Toronto mayor's office continues to shed staffers -- two press secretaries quit over the weekend, following the firing of chief-of-staff Mark Towhey last week -- evidence has emerged that the existence and location of the video (now officially worth $200,000) that allegedly shows the mayor smoking from a crack pipe was known to one of Ford's closest advisers.
On May 17, the day after Gawker and The Toronto Star published the testimonies of reporters who said they had been shown the video by an alleged drug dealer, mayoral staffer David Price approached Towhey and told him he knew where the video could be found, the Globe and Mail reported Monday:
He gave an address and a unit on Dixon Road, and Mr. Towhey told him not to try to find the video, a source said. The source said Mr. Price added that his informant told him the video’s original owner was killed by someone for it. Police have since said the interviews are not related to any ongoing homicide investigation.
According to the source, Mr. Price insisted to Mr. Towhey the intelligence was dependable, and Mr. Towhey gave the information to police. Police confirmed members of its homicide squad interviewed Mr. Towhey and the force took a statement from Mr. Price. Neither the mayor nor Mr. Price responded to requests for comment.
When asked about his staff’s knowledge of the video on Tuesday, the mayor said: “Ask my staff.”
Dixon Road marks the southern boundary of Ward 2, Etobicoke North, which Rob Ford used to represent on the Toronto City Council. A different Globe and Mail investigation has alleged that the mayor's brother, City Councillor Doug Ford, was a prominent hash dealer in the area decades ago, an accusation which the councillor has denied. But this is actually a crucial part of the crack video saga too, because one of the individuals the Globe and Mail identified as being a key player in Doug Ford's alleged former hash enterprise was, you guessed it, Rob Ford adviser David Price.
So the infamous video has also been connected to a murder. So far, the only visual evidence of its existence has been a blurry screenshot that shows Ford with two young men who have been identified as Anthony Smith and Muhammad Khattak. Smith was murdered outside a Toronto nightclub in March, and Khattak was also shot and hospitalized in the incident. The connection has led the Toronto Star to openly question whether Smith may have been murdered over the alleged video of Ford.
But despite all this, Ford's job security is very strong. Whether Ford denies or admits the existence of the video -- and even if the video emerges, which may very well not happen given the homicide investigation and the (related?) disappearance of Gawker's source -- there is little the voters or the City Council can do. Short of missing three straight months of council meetings or a procedural violation, the only way a Toronto mayor can be forcibly removed is if he is not only convicted of a criminal offense, but sentenced to at least three months in prison. There is no recall process for mayors in Ontario.
Ford was nearly removed from office by a judge last fall over an ethics breach, after he failed to recuse himself on a procedural vote in a debate over his own use of city stationary to solicit donations for a football charity. But that decision was reversed on appeal.
"There's no way of getting rid of a mayor who's screwing up," says John Sewell, who was mayor of Toronto in the late 1970s. "For something like this to happen... this is really, really rare. We're all sort of in a quandary."
The problems are particularly acute because Toronto has shored up power in the mayor's office in recent years. A number of officials in City Hall are now beholden to Mayor Ford, for example, which, Sewell says, reduces their incentive to speak out.
The only good news for Toronto is that the Ford saga needn't hamstring the entire city government, says Clayton Ruby, the lawyer whose suit nearly got Ford removed from office in the fall. Despite structural changes, Toronto still does not have the strong mayor system used in many large U.S. cities. "It's the Council that makes all the decisions that are important," Ruby says. "We've had a long history of drunks [as mayors], and we just carry on."
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Top image: Reuters/Mark Blinch.