(CNN) — The headline screaming from the front page of Wednesday’s Toronto Sun said it all: “Rob Ford: Global Stuporstar.”
Above the text, Ford — the mayor of Toronto — beamed out at readers from the news conference where he had just admitted smoking crack cocaine. In a drunken stupor. “Probably, approximately about a year ago.”
Despite the controversy, Ford is clinging to office, confounding critics and delighting supporters who say he’s done plenty of good for the city — despite headlines around the world that have splashed a bit of mud on the image of the gleaming lakeside city that’s arguably the cultural center of English-speaking Canada.
“He’s human. We all make mistakes,” one resident told Canadian broadcaster CBC Toronto.
“If he smokes and saves me money, I’ll vote for him — even if he’s a bum,” said another.
In fact, some polling data suggested Ford’s approval ratings had actually climbed in the days before his stunning announcement Tuesday after months of denials — as they had in September with the scandal in full swing.
At that time, some 10,000 cheering supporters packed the Ford family’s annual barbecue — even with all the lurid accusations of drug use and purported links to street criminals, CBC reported.
“He’s a remarkable individual and a lot of people have put their faith in him,” City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong told CNN’s Piers Morgan on Tuesday. “The question is when will the public feel that he’s basically taking advantage of them and that he has abused that trust that they’ve given him.”
Tuesday’s admission followed months of sometimes heated denials prompted by reports this spring by the U.S. website Gawker and the Toronto Sun newspaper revealing the existence of a video that purportedly shows Ford smoking crack.
The scandal widened amid a police investigation and the arrest of one of Ford’s friends on drug charges.
He denied the allegations — until Tuesday — when he emerged from his office and shocked reporters with his sudden admission.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But no, do I? Am I an addict? No,” he said. “Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
“I actually was completely surprised,” said Robyn Doolittle, city hall reporter for the Toronto Star.
Reporters had expected him to resign, she said.
The admission was the only the latest oddity in what Toronto Life magazine called “the weirdest mayoralty ever.”
Among other things, Ford has been called out for comments some have interpreted as racist, homophobic and misogynistic, and he has had several brushes with city ethics regulators, according to the Toronto Star.
But he has also scored successes, including fiscal reforms that have endeared him to supporters, columnist Philip Preville wrote in Toronto Life magazine.
“While the entire city has been distracted by the giant blowhard on the screen, the man behind the curtain has accomplished some impressive wizardry,” he said.
For some, the drama surrounding Ford echoes that of Marion Barry, who was mayor of Washington when a police sting operation captured him smoking crack with an informant in 1990.
After a spectacular fall from grace and six months in prison, Barry successfully ran for a seat on the Washington, D.C. City Council under the slogan, “He may not be perfect, but he’s perfect for D.C.”
He then ran for mayor again in 1994 and served a four-year term before returning in 2002 to the City Council, where he remains.
A common tie between the men: a penchant for controversial quotes and an unquestioned love of their communities.
“He loves the city and wants to represent the city as mayor,” City Councillor Jaye Robinson said Wednesday, speaking of Ford.
Can he? Doolitle says she thinks so. There’s no impeachment law or recall process to force him from office, she says.
But Robinson says that despite continued support among his base, it’s time for Ford to step aside — at least temporarily — and deal with his personal issues.
“It doesn’t really reflect well on the city and the residents, many of the residents, most of the residents are fed up and they would like to see him resign,” she said Wednesday.
Ford, however, seems to have other things on his mind, Doolittle said.
“As far as he’s concerned, the election for 2014’s started,” she said.