Chaotic scene as Toronto strips mayor of powers

TORONTO, Canada (AFP) - Toronto city council voted on Monday to strip Mayor Rob Ford of most of his remaining powers in further sanctions against him following admissions of smoking crack and binge drinking.

The move effectively makes the city’s chief magistrate a figurehead, which Mr Ford vowed to fight.

Leading up to the vote, debate on the motion descended into farce as Mr Ford taunted hecklers in the public gallery, calling them “punks,” and at one point 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 Mr Ford’s official duties and on Monday went further in order to “restore the confidence of the public in the government of Toronto,” according to the deputy mayor. But Mr Ford, who has apologized for his hell-raising lifestyle and for obscene public outbursts, has vowed to fight both in court and at the ballot box to keep his job.

“This is going to be outright war,” he said.

The mayor has faced a swell of outrage over a litany of misdeeds, both admitted and alleged, ever since police last month revealed that they have video footage showing him smoking crack.

Mr Ford admitted he had smoked the illicit drug and apologized 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.

Debate over the motion to curb the mayor’s powers was marked by rowdy outbursts and argumentative to-and-fro between councillors and Mr Ford’s dwindling band of supporters.

Mr Ford swung in his chair and pantomimed one councillor’s drinking and driving and stood to confront hecklers in the public gallery.

At one point, Mr Ford knocked a female councillor to the floor when he charged across the chamber. She appeared rattled but uninjured as Mr Ford, a former linebacker, broke off to help her to her feet.

Mr Ford said he thought his brother Doug, who is also a city councillor, “was getting into an altercation.”

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.

“The Rob Ford we’ve seen lately is not the Rob Ford we elected,” countered Councillor David Shiner.

Over the weekend, Mr 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 also taped a new Canadian television talk show with his brother. It was due to air later on Monday.

Canadian municipal politics rarely resonates far beyond city limits, but such is Mr Ford’s infamy that he was also parodied on the US weekly sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. He told US broadcasters that he works out at a gym every day, and is “seeking professional help” in order to shed a few pounds and get his personal life back on track.

“If you don’t see a difference in the next four, five months then I have to eat my words,” he told Fox News.

He maintained, however: “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m not a drug addict.” Mr Ford also revealed to US media that he has aspirations to run for prime minister of Canada.

Of his critics, he said: “The haters are going to be the haters.”