Mayor Rob Ford said during the first televised debate of Toronto's election campaign that people are no longer interested in the drug scandal surrounding him after the front-runners seeking to replace him said he has embarrassed the city and ruined its reputation.
But mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and John Tory made no mention Wednesday of the incidents of drug use, drunken public appearances asnd erratic behavior that have given Ford international notoriety. Both avoided talking about it directly.
"It's time to take down the circus tent at City Hall. Rob Ford has made Toronto an international embarrassment. It's time for change," said Chow, a left-leaning candidate popular in downtown Toronto. Tory, a right of center candidate, told Ford he's disrespected the office of the mayor.
Ford acknowledged last year after months of denials that he smoked crack in a "drunken stupor" after police said they obtained a video that appears to show him smoking crack. The video has never been released to the public. News reports of the crack video's existence first surfaced last May, igniting a media firestorm around Ford. He careened from one scandal to another, becoming a national embarrassment for many Canadians.
Ford has rebuffed pressure to resign and is seeking to be re-elected Oct. 27. The mayor of Canada's largest city said people are not interested in scandal talk.
"People have heard this story. It's rewind, rewind, rewind," Ford said.
Ford said the scandals and police investigation are "personal" and he repeated that he's "not perfect."
Ford, a populist, received favorable reviews from pundits and in the media for his debate performance. The mayor avoided reading from a script unlike the other candidates. He looked more relaxed and touched on his fiscal record.
Journalists in the debate also didn't ask specific questions about the crack scandal or the police investigation into the mayor and his friend and former driver Alexander Lisi, who is facing extortion charges over attempts to retrieve the crack video from an alleged gang member.
Tory later said he didn't need to ask Ford. "I don't need to repeat all the gory details for everybody out there to hear because they know it very well," Tory said.
Ford is not facing criminal charges but the police investigation continues. Recently released police documents note that meetings between Ford and Lisi are "indicative to that of drug trafficking" and that the two have been in constant contact during the investigation.
The Toronto City Council stripped Ford of most of his powers in an effort to isolate him last year, but it lacked the authority to force him out.
Ford has said he's confident he can be re-elected despite the scandals. He has said he remains highly popular in Toronto's working-class conservative suburbs, which carried him to victory in 2010, galvanized by his promise to shake things up at a City Hall he said was dominated by free-spending liberal elites.
Ford's promises to slash spending, cut taxes and end what he called "the war on the car" gained him a loyal following in the suburbs that came to be known as "Ford Nation."