Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is swarmed by media at city hall on Nov. 15, 2013, in Toronto.
(Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim, Getty Images)
TORONTO - As disturbing revelations surrounding Toronto's mayor mount, the city's citizens have found themselves caught up in the turmoil with no end in sight.
Over the past two weeks, Mayor Rob Ford has admitted to buying illegal drugs, smoking crack, drinking and driving, and finding himself - by his own description - in a series of "drunken stupors," some of which have been caught on video. The admissions come after the mayor denied such allegations for six months.
For their part, Toronto's 2.7 million residents seem by turns appalled, worried, angry and, in some cases, supportive. In the city's western suburbs, where Ford's support is based, weekend shoppers groaned at the reminder of the story that's been on everyone's lips.
"Get rid of him! Time to go," said Lynn Lawrence, a retired teacher, who wonders what kind of example the mayor's behavior will set for the city's children - to say nothing of its public officials. "It's not OK to make a mistake, apologize and then keep on doing it. I'm tired of 'sorry.' "
On Friday, Toronto City Council voted to strip Ford of key executive powers, leaving him as a mayor in title only. That move followed a shocking interview with reporters on Thursday, when - in remarks carried live on TV - the 44-year-old Ford used graphic language to deny accusations of having sexually harassed a former staffer.
STORY: Toronto Council strips Mayor Ford of key powers
A poll taken last week - before the latest accusations came to light - showed that 76% of Torontonians wanted Ford to either resign permanently or take a break to receive treatment. Still, four in 10 polled said they approved of the job he's doing as mayor.
Elected on a tax-cutting, Tea Party-like platform, Ford has always been rough around the edges - a blunt talker with no time for the people he derided as downtown elites - an attribute that suited his fans just fine.
Even in the midst of scandal, it's not hard to find supporters who are willing to look past his personal foibles, so long as he keeps cutting costs.
Some supporters say they feel that the mayor has been the victim of a witch hunt by media figures who are hostile to his agenda.
"I'd vote for him again," said Jeannie Wozniak, a retiree who says she lives not far from the mayor.
Wozniak said there's no doubt Ford has some personal problems, but argues that those are secondary. "He runs the city well. He's very fiscally responsible - we've had no strikes." (Aside from a brief librarians' strike, Ford has managed to avoid major public-sector labor disruptions.)
STORY: Toronto mayor's woes were known, and ignored by fans
Back downtown, the revelations confirm, for some, long-held conceptions about the man.
"As soon as the news said he was allegedly smoking crack, I said, 'Yeah, that sounds about right.' The guy likes to party - and apparently, hard," says Kathleen Bates, a student and barista. "I think his heart was in the right place in terms of wanting to save the taxpayers' money, but he's pro-car and anti-bike. That's what I don't like about him."
Mostly, though, Toronto-nians seem weary and worried. On Saturday, young professionals in the trendy West Queen West neighborhood caught a fleeting bit of fall sun and tried to talk about anything other than Rob Ford.
"I think it's a little bit heartbreaking, to be honest," says Natasha Greenblatt, a director, playwright and actress. "He's probably sick, and going to have a heart attack."
Her heartbreak, she says, extends to the city that has to go through this process. "It's like a train wreck. You can't look away."