TORONTO - A contrite Rob Ford finally apologized Tuesday to those who don't like the way he handled his conflict of interest situation, but said he would fight to stay on as mayor.
Ford also said his appeal of a judge's decision to boot him from office should not be construed as criticism of the courts, although he had previously blamed a left-wing conspiracy for his ouster.
"Looking back, maybe, I could have expressed myself in a different way," Ford said in a prepared statement.
"To everyone who believes I should have done this differently, I sincerely apologize."
Playing an emotional trump card, the embattled mayor said in a shaky voice the "entire matter" started because he "loves to help kids play football."
"I was focused on raising money to help underprivileged youth."
To that end, Ford solicited donations from lobbyists for his private football foundation using city letterhead.
He repeatedly refused the integrity commissioner's orders to repay the $3,150 he had solicited, and was booted Monday for conflict because he voted at a council meeting on the repayment.
"I never believed there was a conflict of interest because I had nothing to gain, and the city had nothing to lose," Ford said.
He took part in the council vote, he said, because he considered it important to answer the accusations made against him.
Ford is seeking a stay of the judge's ruling pending an appeal to Divisional Court. The stay application will be heard Dec. 5 and the appeal Jan. 7.
On Monday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland ordered Ford removed from office for violating conflict rules but put the order on hold for 14 days so the city could make suitable arrangements.
Ford, Hackland found in a scathing ruling, was "wilfully blind" in taking part in the council vote on whether to repay the $3,150.
Hackland could have barred Ford from running again for seven years, but instead opted to disqualify him for the "current term."
"It is difficult to accept an error-in-judgment defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the integrity commissioner and the 'code of conduct'," Hackland said in his ruling.
Immediately after the judgment, Ford blamed a political conspiracy for his ouster, saying "the left wing wants me out of here, and they'll do anything in their power to (do that).''
Taking a different tone Tuesday, Ford said he would fight the decision because his work as mayor was not yet done.
"I feel it's important to work through the appeal system so I can continue to do the work I was elected to do by the taxpayers of this city," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, the city's top lawyer rejected Ford's plan to run in a byelection — estimated to cost about $7 million — if one is called to choose his successor.
City solicitor Anna Kinastowski told council that Hackland's ruling booting Ford for the "current term" precludes that option.
"It is my opinion that that word 'term' means 2010 to 2014," Kinastowski said.
Coun. Paula Fletcher said council will probably go with the solicitor's advice that the "term" runs from when he was elected in 2010 until 2014.
"Sometimes the mayor interprets the rules differently than everybody else," she said.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday labelled calls by some councillors for Ford to resign as "political comment."
Earlier on Tuesday, Ford appeared at an event outside city hall honouring the Toronto Argonauts, who won the Grey Cup on the weekend. There was a mix of cheers and boos in the crowd, and some heckled and laughed when he was introduced as mayor.
On Tuesday night, Ford was at the Rogers Centre — the site of Sunday's 100th Grey Cup — to coach his high school football team in a championship game.
Ford's Don Bosco Eagles were defeated in the 31st Metro Bowl, 28-14 to the Huron Heights Warriors of Newmarket, Ont. The mayor watched from the sidelines as his team — which was making its first trip to the championship — rallied in the second half with a touchdown, but couldn't complete the comeback.
Ford's brother, Coun. Doug Ford, had called on supporters to rally behind the mayor by appearing at the game.
But apart from half a dozen supporters, including one hoisting a home-made sign in favour of Ford, and a few others handing out stickers, the crowd gathered appeared more focused on football than politics.
— with files from Linda Nguyen