Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has fired his chief of staff, the latest development in a tumultuous week at city hall where the pressure is growing for the mayor to comment on crack cocaine allegations raised by two media outlets.
City hall has become a bit of a media circus as scores of reporters wait for Ford to make some kind of comment on allegations that he was videotaped smoking crack cocaine.
But that didn't happen Thursday, when the reporters staked out at city hall were the first to find out that Ford had fired his chief of staff.
"I am no longer the chief of staff. I did not resign," Mark Towhey told reporters in the afternoon as he was escorted out of city hall by security guards wearing bullet-proof vests.
Towhey said it was "an honour and privilege" to work at city hall.
There was no clear reason given for Towhey's dismissal, as Ford remained sequestered in his office refusing to meet with the media.
Coun. Jaye Robinson, a Ford supporter on city council, called the firing "ill-timed."
"It doesn't really speak to a strategic decision on letting go the chief of staff at this very time [during] what is happening at city hall," she said.
The drama has gripped the city for a week, ever since the U.S.-based gossip website Gawker broke the story about Ford allegedly being videotaped while smoking crack. A reporter claims to have seen the tape. That was followed a few hours later by a report in the Toronto Star claiming two of its reporters had seen the same tape.
The reports said Ford could be clearly seen smoking something from a glass pipe and also making racial and homophobic remarks.
CBC News has not seen the videotape and cannot verify its contents.
The mayor has only commented on the accusations to reporters in passing, calling them "absolutely not true" and "ridiculous." Ford also indicated he believes he is being targeted by the Toronto Star.
Gawker is trying to raise funds through online donations in an attempt to purchase the video so it can be posted online.
Councillors of all stripes have called on Ford to speak up. His continued silence has brought the business of governing Canada's largest city to a virtual standstill, some say.
"Torontonians want to hear from our mayor — and I think us as councillors need to send a strong message to the mayor as well, that we need to address these questions," said Coun. Ana Bailao.
"We were all hopeful that the mayor would come forward and address this," Robinson said. "And so now we're trying to take it into our hands and to ensure that city business moves forward."
Ford has defenders
On Wednesday Coun. Doug Ford defended his brother in a media statement lambasting the media. He said his brother has told him the drug use allegations are not true.
- Read about who's defending Mayor Rob Ford
The lack of a public explanation from the mayor has prompted newspaper editorials to criticize his silence.
The Toronto Sun, generally one of Ford’s fiercest defenders, called on the mayor to speak publicly about the contents of the video or step aside.
"It is not enough for Ford to simply dismiss this allegation as “ridiculous,” or to send out third parties to deny it based on what he has told them. Of course it’s “ridiculous” that the mayor is being accused of smoking crack cocaine and consorting with drug dealers. The issue isn’t whether it’s ridiculous. The issue is whether it’s true … Ford needs to directly address these allegations, or get help and step aside."
The Toronto Star, a newspaper Ford has long refused to speak to, called on the mayor to leave office: “If Ford’s strategy is to lie low, stonewall, and hope this issue goes away he’s painfully mistaken. Beyond being inexcusably reckless, smoking crack in the company of drug dealers is a criminal offence.”
In a column by Chris Selley, the National Post called on Ford to provide more details about the video.
“The allegations are too serious to ignore; and the possibility that Mr. Ford might actually survive them by crying media conspiracy is too outrageous to tolerate.”
A Globe and Mail editorial called for answers from the mayor's office.
"Public office-holders do not need to respond to every rumour or allegation. But these allegations cross a line. There is no room for debate; Mr. Ford’s alleged appearance on the videotape is a legitimate public concern. Crack and those who deal it bring addiction and murder to city life, especially its young people."
Some members of council were also left unsatisfied by Doug Ford's comments Wednesday. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said he wanted to hear from "Rob, not Doug."
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