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Toronto's City Council Seeks to Isolate the Mayor

TORONTO (AP) -- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford declared he was feeling good about confronting angry City Council members on Wednesday as he arrived for a debate over a motion calling on him to step aside and get help for his admitted drug use.

Ford's refusal to resign has confounded Toronto's City Council, where many members agree that his erratic behavior - from smoking crack cocaine in a "drunken stupor" to threatening to kill someone in a videotaped tirade - has consumed Toronto's politics and undermined efforts to tackle other challenges.

"Feeling great," Ford said, smiling as he arrived at City Hall.

With no clear legal path to force him out, the 44-member City Council is grasping for ways to shunt the larger-than-life leader aside and govern without him until next year's municipal elections.

It is an unprecedented effort but in some ways, it may not be a stretch. Toronto's mayor already has limited powers compared to the mayors of many large cities in the United States. He is just one voting member in the council and his power stems mostly from his ability, as the only councilor elected by citywide vote, to build consensus and set the agenda. That authority, many council members say, has evaporated in the crack scandal.

"We really just have to build a box around the mayor so we can get work done," said councilor John Filion, who has introduced one of two motions in the council designed to isolate Ford.

The motion being debated Wednesday would call on Ford to take a leave of absence, apologize to Toronto residents for misleading them and cooperate with police.

The motion was introduced by Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who has been supportive of the conservative Ford's policies since the mayor was elected three years ago, riding a backlash from suburbanites who felt alienated by what they deemed Toronto's downtown-centric, liberal-dominated politics.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, also Ford ally, announced shortly before the debate that he would support the motion.

"I'm publicly advising the mayor to take some time," Kelly said.

If Ford refuses to take a leave, Minnan-Wong said he would put forward an amended motion that would ask the province of Ontario to pass legislation to remove the mayor from office. But that initiative is unlikely to pass, with Kelly and other councilors concerned that asking the provincial government to intervene would set a dangerous precedent.

The City Council has no authority itself to oust Ford because he has not been convicted of a crime. Toronto police said last month they had obtained a long-sought video of Ford apparently smoking from a crack pipe but that it does not constitute enough evidence to charge him.

News reports of the crack video's existence first surfaced in May, but it has not been released publicly.

After police announced they had the video, Ford confessed that he smoked crack last year while drunk and apologized. But he insisted he is not addicted to drugs and does not need rehab.

On Tuesday, he cheerfully signed bobblehead dolls of himself being sold at City Hall for charity. "It's going to be rumble in the jungle tomorrow," Ford said of the looming debate, as hundreds lined up to buy the dolls.

One Ford ally, Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti, called the Minnan-Wong's motion a waste of time, arguing it should be up to the voters next year to decide whether the mayor should stay in office.

"We can't tell him what to do. Only the electorate can tell him what to do," he said. "Most of us that care have already spoken to the mayor or relayed it to the mayor's family. I think that's what's needed. The rest is up to the electorate."

Another proposed motion would curtail Ford's powers, suspending his authority to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and his executive committee, which runs the budget process. It likely won't be debated until December because of the council's procedural rules.

Filion, the councilor who introduced that motion, said the idea is to prevent Ford from firing executive committee members - such as Minnan-Wong - who speak out against him. Councilors are also considering stripping Ford's authority to set the City Council's agenda, said Councilor Adam Vaughan, who opposes getting the province involved.

"We will shun him, curtail his power as best we can," Vaughan said. "He clearly has gone off the deep end, shot himself in outer space."

Despite his eroding political leverage, Ford promises to see re-election. He maintains a hardcore of supporters he refers to as "Ford Nation," who applaud him for abolishing an annual $60 vehicle registration tax, squeezing valuable concessions out of the labor unions and other cost-saving measures.

"It won't be the end of Ford Nation," said Nelson Wiseman, a political professor at the University of Toronto. "The movement and the anti-government sentiment it embodied that got him elected will stay alive."

Plenty of people lining up for "Robbie Bobbie" bobbleheads defended the mayor, who despite coming from a wealthy family, has cultivated a brash, everyman appeal.

"I'm just going to put it on the shelf and enjoy it," said John Rowland. "Everyone has their own personal problems. He's finally admitted to it. I really don't think that affects what he's doing here at city hall."

2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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