World
4:11 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

Toronto Mayor Dodges Accusations Of Crack Cocaine Use

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 5:28 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This remarkable statement today from the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.

(SOUNDBITE OF PREPARED STATEMENT)

MAYOR ROB FORD: I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.

BLOCK: Mayor Ford made a brief statement to reporters after a growing clamor for him to address the issue. Last week, the Toronto Star published a story saying that two of their reporters were shown a cellphone video that appears to show Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine, nearly incoherent. The Star reported that the video was being shopped around by Somali drug dealers. The paper didn't pay for it but reported on what they had seen.

Jeff Semple has been covering the story for the CBC. And Jeff, what else did Mayor Ford say today about this video and these allegations that he was smoking crack?

JEFF SEMPLE: Oh - hi, Melissa. Rob Ford looked supremely confident, more confident than I think we've seen him in a while, as he sort of swaggered up to that microphone. For the video, he says - he said clearly, that he can't comment on a video that he's never seen, and that doesn't exist at all.

And he said - suggested again that this is all sort of part of a witchhunt, a campaign by the Toronto Star - the most-read daily newspaper in this country - to attack him and his credibility. So yeah, he didn't waste any time, and didn't pull any punches this afternoon.

BLOCK: Well, the Toronto Star's reporting was really striking. I mean, the video that they were shown - which they say was about 90 seconds - said - according to the reporters, he was seen lighting a crack pipe; rambling; using a gay slur. There was a lot of detail in what they said.

SEMPLE: That's right. And, of course, they weren't the only ones to report it. The - a website based there in the U.S., in New York, gawker.com actually published the allegations first. The editor of Gawker said that - a very similar story; that someone had approached him, claiming to be a drug dealer, and showed him the video that - which he described in very much the same way. They published those allegations on Thursday night of last week.

That prompted the Star to come out and publish similar allegations. They said they'd been sitting on the story for the last few weeks, and were trying to figure out what to do with it. So certainly, two different publications, three different journalists, all claiming to see the same video. And that's the video that Rob Ford now says doesn't exist.

BLOCK: Mayor Ford is 43 years old. He comes from a prominent political family and has had popular support in the past, I gather, a lot of support. But he's also no stranger to controversy and in particular, previous allegations of substance abuse.

SEMPLE: That's right. And as you say, Rob Ford swept to power with a very strong electorate, about - more than 40 percent of the votes; has always been a very polarizing mayor. Toronto's electoral map looks sort of like a doughnut, where the downtown core, in the middle, didn't vote for him; and everyone around the doughnut, in the suburbs, did vote for him. But as you say, right from the beginning, very contro - very polarizing.

And he has had allegations of this nature in the past though certainly, nothing this serious. In fact, just a couple of months ago, the same newspaper - the Toronto Star - published that Rob Ford had been asked to leave a fundraising gala ball because he appeared to be intoxicated. Now, Rob Ford refuted those claims as well. He's also had allegations in the past of drunk driving. So certainly, as you say, nothing new to have allegations of inappropriate behavior from the mayor. But this is, by far, the most serious allegations we've seen to date.

BLOCK: Well, briefly, do you think his statement today puts an end to this story - or does it live on?

SEMPLE: Well, that's the question we're all trying to figure out right now. He had been silent, and avoiding all of our microphones, for the past week. Now today, he explained that was based on his legal advice. His lawyer had told him not to say anything. But one would think, of course, that he'd have a lot harder time explaining this video if the video was - obviously - released to the public, and it's seeming now, that's looking more unlikely than ever.

Gawker.com had been on a fundraising campaign trying to raise the $200,000 it said was needed to buy the video from these alleged drug dealers. It's now only about $30,000 away from reaching that total. But in another twist, the - Gawker and the Toronto Star now say that they have lost contact with the people who claim to have the video.

BLOCK: OK. Jeff Semple, thanks so much.

SEMPLE: You bet.

BLOCK: Jeff Semple, reporting on this for the CBC; the ongoing story of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who today denied allegations that he uses crack cocaine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: