, Toronto November 6- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford apologized after admitting that he once smoked crack cocaine, but vowed to stay in office in Canada’s largest city and even seek re-election.
The stunning admission by the 44 year old came after repeated denials, and six months after a video surfaced that allegedly showed him consuming the illicit drug.
“I know I embarrassed everyone in the city and I will be forever sorry,” he told a news conference, before adding: “I was elected to do a job, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing.”
Earlier, he told reporters outside his office: “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.”
“Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors,” he added.
Ford said he believed the incident happened “about a year ago,” but admitted: “I don’t know exactly.”
Later at the news conference, Ford said: “I know what I did was wrong.”
“I know that admitting my mistake was the right thing to do. And I feel like a thousand pounds have been lifted off of my shoulders.”
Ford, who has not been charged with a crime, said he kept his substance abuse from his family, including his brother Doug who is a Toronto city councillor, and from his staff and colleagues at city hall.
“I was embarrassed and ashamed,” he said.
He went on to say, however, that he would not resign despite mounting calls for him to step aside and seek treatment.
Instead, Ford vowed to try to regain voters’ “trust and confidence” ahead of the next municipal elections in October 2014.
“I love my job. I love this city. I love saving taxpayers money and I love being your mayor,” he said.
“For the sake of the taxpayers, we must get back to work immediately. We must keep Toronto moving forward. I was elected to do a job, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing.”
The existence of the 90 second clip at the center of the scandal was first reported in May.
The daily Toronto Star and American gossip website Gawker said they had seen the footage, which reportedly showed a man resembling Ford lolling back in a chair in a room, inhaling from what appeared to be a glass crack pipe.
But after Gawker raised more than $200,000 in an online campaign to buy the video, it said it was told by its unnamed source that the video was “gone.”
Last week, Toronto police chief Bill Blair said technicians had salvaged the deleted video and other data from a hard drive seized in an investigation of the mayor’s longtime friend Alexander Lisi for extortion, related to Lisi’s attempts to recover the video.
The controversy over the video led to the departure of six of Ford’s key staffers, including his chief of staff in the spring.
Political allies subsequently appeared to distance themselves from Ford, despite coveting his “Ford Nation” of supporters based in Toronto’s suburbs.
All the while, his refusal to explain himself further fueled speculation, as he jousted with journalists calling them “maggots” and assailed his critics.
This week, Ford’s brother demanded Blair’s removal for showing “bias” against the mayor in comments to the media.
Blair had confirmed for the first time that the mayor appeared in the video and said he was “disappointed.” On Monday, he also uninvited the mayor to his annual charity gala.
Ford and his lawyer, meanwhile, have called on police to release the video, but Blair declined, saying it was evidence in a criminal case now before the courts.
“I want everyone in the city to see the tape I want to see the state I was in,” Ford said.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who previously warned that she might remove Ford from office, has called on police and prosecutors to “take action.”
Canada’s attorney general, Peter MacKay, said it was “certainly a sad day for the city of Toronto,” adding that Ford “needs to get help.”
Toronto city councillor Jaye Robinson, a former ally who was booted from Ford’s inner circle in May, called on him to step aside, saying his antics had turned city hall into “a circus.”
“We have become the laughingstock of North America, if not the world,” she said, adding that the scandal was disrupting city business.
“He needs to step aside, take a leave of absence and address his personal issues, which are clearly escalating.”
Robinson speculated that Ford finally came clean because he faces being dragged into an “unfolding criminal investigation” of Lisi and the video.
Blair last week dismissed the possibility of drug charges against Ford, but left open the possibility that prosecutors may lay more charges in the extortion case.
Toronto police have filed 500 pages of heavily redacted court documents detailing months of police surveillance of Ford and his associates, along with videos on materials belonging to suspected drug dealers.
On at least one of those videos, the mayor is alleged to be smoking the drug from a glass pipe at a suspected crack house.