Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Quizzed About Crack Cocaine Use in Debate

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The combative politician was also asked about drug dealer associations as challengers make first mention of scandals in the mayoral election campaign after surprising silence.

TORONTO – Toronto mayor Rob Ford on Thursday night was finally grilled by election rivals over his admitted crack cocaine use and criminal world associations.

An evening before, the TV cameras were lined up in a downtown TV studio, as Ford and his fellow mayoral candidates engaged in their first debate.

But Ford's opponents proved surprisingly reluctant to utter the words "crack cocaine," mention an ongoing police investigation into the mayor or otherwise raise the many political scandals that have made Ford a punch line for U.S. late night TV comics.

That allowed the combative mayor, aiming to restore his electoral viability after being stripped of his political powers, to stay on message about saving taxpayer dollars and keeping the city safe and clean.

All that changed on Thursday night a few blocks away at the Ryerson Theater when rival John Tory finally gave the assembled reporters their headline.

"It’s not acceptable to have a mayor who often shows up late and sometimes doesn’t show up at all. It’s not acceptable to see a spectacle of a mayor who refuses to answer questions,” Tory began in his opening statement.

"And most troubling and unacceptable of all, a mayor who has eventually admitted to multiple and continuing relationships with convicted criminals and gang types. The various people he has pledged to keep off our streets," he added.

That had the mostly young university audience cheering.

"I’d like to thank John for those kind words," Ford finally responded with a broad smile.

The debate moderator, Ralph Lean, also chided Ford for appearing to "hang out with drug dealers."

"How do I get over the hurdle? Shouldn’t the mayor of Toronto have a higher standard?" Lean asked.

"I don’t condone drug dealers. I don’t condone crack cocaine. I don’t condone that stuff," Ford said in response.

"But you know what, Ralph? I condone being the best mayor the city’s ever had," the mayor added, ever attempting to grab the mantle of fiscal rectitude to complete an unlikely political resurrection.

When it was the turn of audience members to pose questions, a student grilled Ford about a recent St. Patrick's Day incident captured on video where the mayor stumbles and swears outside City Hall late at night while attempting to hail a cab.

"You know what? I’m not perfect,” Ford answered as audience members jeered the mayor.

Then Friday morning, Ford appeared on a CBC radio morning show and had to defend his exposure to an ongoing police investigation, which could potentially lead to his arrest.

"Don't call me a criminal, Matt, because I'm not a criminal," the mayor told host Matt Galloway.

The radio interview took Ford, who kept insisting he has a "proven track record," to task for repeated instances where initial denials of personal failings are met with admissions of guilt and press conference apologies.

"Part of that track record is you lying about smoking crack, you lying about a reporter in your backyard that you needed to apologize for, lying about saying you weren’t going to drink anymore and then you were caught again, drinking. So based on that, why should anybody trust anything that you say?” Galloway questioned.

"You look at my 14 years of proven track record," Ford shot back. "Was I perfect? No. And I am not perfect," he added, as the mayor, for the first time in his re-election bid, despite his front-runner status, finds himself on his back foot.