TORONTO (Reuters) - Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, under huge pressure to quit after he admitted smoking crack cocaine, said on Thursday he was getting help for a drinking problem, but offered no indication that he might step down.
Ford also expressed remorse for an obscene outburst he made earlier in the day when denying an allegation he had made sexual overtures to a female member of his staff.
“I want to apologize for my graphic remarks this morning,” Ford said in the latest of a string of apologies, his wife, Renata, standing silently at his side. “For the past six months I have been under tremendous, tremendous stress.”
He added: “I fully realize in the past I have drank alcohol in excess. I wish you to know that I‘m receiving support from a team of healthcare professionals.”
Pressure started building on Ford this spring, when reporters with the Toronto Star and U.S. media blog Gawker said they had seen a cellphone video that appeared to show the mayor smoking crack cocaine.
Ford spent months denying he used crack, but admitted this month he had done so “in one of my drunken stupors,” and apologized. He conceded on Wednesday that he had also bought illegal drugs, and again apologized for his mistakes. On Thursday, he admitted he had driven after drinking alcohol.
The Toronto city council - which does not have the power to fire Ford - on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to urge him to take time off and deal with his personal problems. He says he will not quit.
Ford’s refusal to step down even temporarily has infuriated officials who say his antics are harming the reputation of North America’s fourth largest city.
“People want civility, people want respect and we are not seeing that ... This is a train wreck and has been for six months,” said councilor Jane Robinson.
City councilor and former Ford supporter Denzil Minnan-Wong told Reuters: “He has to step aside. He’s crossed a line and he’s past the point of no return.”
The province of Ontario could, in theory, step in to unravel Toronto’s municipal mess, but Premier Kathleen Wynne on Thursday made clear she would only intervene if the city asked for help, and if her minority government had support from other parties.
“The things we are seeing and hearing about Mayor Rob Ford are truly disturbing,” she said in a televised statement.
Polls initially suggested Ford’s support was holding up despite the scandal. But an Ipsos-Reid survey released on Thursday found 62 percent of those surveyed would not vote for him, and the polling firm said he stood no chance against his potential rivals if an election took place now.
Police documents released on Wednesday quoted Ford associates who alleged the mayor had driven drunk, used racially abusive language, threatened staff, consorted with a woman suspected of being a prostitute and made obscene sexual suggestions to the female member of his staff.
None of the allegations have been proven in court and Ford, describing them as “100 percent lies,” named three former aides that he planned to sue.
“I’ve never had a prostitute here. I‘m happily married at home ... it makes me sick how people are saying this,” he said,
“So, unfortunately, I have no other choice ... I can’t put up with it anymore, so I’ve named the names, litigation will be starting shortly. I’ve had enough,” he said.
Ford, who was elected on a tax-cutting platform in 2010 and insists he will run again in October 2014, also said he would sue a waiter at a restaurant who told police he thought the mayor had been snorting lines of cocaine.
Ford, ousted from his voluntary position coaching a high school football team after the first cocaine allegations, made his lewd remarks on Thursday while wearing a jersey of the Toronto Argonauts Canadian football team, which said it was very disappointed by his actions.
“We hope for the benefit of the wonderful citizens of Toronto and this great city that this situation is resolved expeditiously,” the club said in a statement.
Not everything went badly for the mayor. The right-leaning Sun News Network television channel said it would be offering Ford and his brother Doug - also a city councilor - their own show.
Writing by David Ljunggren; additional reporting by Randall Palmer, Alastair Sharp and Cameron French; Editing by Janet Guttsman, Peter Galloway, Doina Chiacu