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September 23, 2014
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Toronto Mayor takes leave to deal with alcohol problem

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (file photo).

Toronto's deputy mayor started running the city today, a day after Mayor Rob Ford said he would take a leave of absence from his job and his re-election campaign to seek treatment for an alcohol problem.

Ford's move came after months of denials that he has a substance abuse problem and nearly a year after media reports surfaced he had been caught in a video smoking crack cocaine.

His departure followed a Globe and Mail report yesterday that it had seen a video shot last week that showed Ford using what appeared to be drugs.

Today morning, TV cameras captured Ford, 44, leaving his house and getting into a car driven by another person. Earlier, a large suitcase was seen being taken out of the house and being put into a separate car.

Ford did not talk to reporters, but late on Wednesday he released a statement admitting that he has a problem with alcohol and saying that he would seek help to deal with it immediately. The statement did not specify where he planned to go or how long he'd be away.

Ford's brother Doug Ford, a city councillor and manager of the mayor's re-election campaign, choked back tears today as he told reporters he had encouraged the mayor to take time off.

"As an older brother, I'm relieved that Rob has faced his problems and has decided to seek professional help," he said. Doug Ford often speaks for the mayor and has been his most ardent defender, often berating reporters who ask about his brother's personal problems.

Those problems have become increasingly public in the wake of Ford's admission in November that he had smoked crack while in a "drunken stupor".

Since then, several videos have emerged showing the mayor ranting and slurring his words. Also, Toronto police said they had started investigating Ford after his name popped up in a drug probe.

In its report on the latest video, the Globe and Mail published a screen grab on its front page showing Ford holding a small pipe.

Separately on Wednesday, the Toronto Sun reported on a recording it had obtained of Ford ranting and swearing at a suburban Toronto bar on Monday. In it, he makes lewd remarks about rival mayoral candidate Karen Stintz, and also makes threats and utters racial slurs.

In the statement announcing his leave of absence, Ford did not address allegations of drug use or either of the recordings.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly told news conference today that he was assuming Ford's duties until the mayor returned.

"The events that have brought us together this morning can be best described as a personal tragedy, and should not be seen as a crisis of government," Kelly said.

"The actions of the mayor are inexcusable. It's fundamental that we as members of council respect each other and the people we represent."

Kelly had already been carrying out many of the duties normally conducted by the mayor following city council's decision in November to strip Ford of much of his power.

City Manager Joe Penachetti confirmed that Ford's council seat would become vacant if he misses three monthly council meetings - in other words, if he is not back by the July meeting - unless council gives him permission to stay away.

MAYORAL RACE

Ford's absence comes in the midst of his campaign to be returned to office in October's municipal election. He has bet that his core of support in the city's suburbs will give him enough votes to top main rivals Olivia Chow and John Tory.

First elected mayor in 2010, Ford has maintained a cost-cutting "respect the taxpayer" mantra that has resonated with many suburban voters.

He often paints himself as a champion of the suburbs against downtown "elites", and in a departure from an otherwise right-leaning agenda, has vowed to build subways instead of lower-cost light-rail transit.

Recent polls have shown Ford in second place in popular support despite last year's revelations about crack, which made headlines globally and drew ridicule from U.S. late-night talk show hosts.

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