by ROB GILLIES
---- — TORONTO — Toronto’s mayor denied yesterday that he pressured a female employee for oral sex, in an obscenity-laced statement on live television in which he also threatened to take legal action against former staffers who spoke to police about his drinking and drug use.
Rob Ford, who admitted last week to smoking crack, later announced he was getting professional help. But he once again refused to step down and used a typical mix of contrition and defiance in several public appearances yesterday. He wore a football jersey to a City Council session, where outraged councilors turned their backs each time he spoke and again called on him to step aside.
Later, Councilor Karen Stintz said the city has suspended all school trips to City Hall indefinitely because staff deemed it unsafe.
Ford drew gasps from reporters yesterday morning when he used an obscenity as he denied telling a staffer he wanted to have oral sex.
“I’ve never said that in my life to her; I would never do that,” Ford said on live television.
The father of two school-age children said he is “happily married” and used crude language to say he enjoys enough oral sex at home.
Ford later apologized for his remarks at a news conference. He explained he was pushed “over the line” by newly released court documents that included allegations against him involving cocaine, escorts and prostitution. He called the allegations “100 percent lies.”
He said his integrity as a father and husband had been attacked, prompting him to “see red.”
“I acted on complete impulse in my remarks,” Ford said.
Ford also said he didn’t want to comment on the particulars of the health care support he’s receiving and asked for privacy for his family.
The mayor said he would take legal action against his former chief of staff, Mark Towhey and two other aides over their interviews with police that were detailed in court documents released Wednesday.
Ford did not specify what the aides might have said that was untrue. He also said he would take action against a waiter who said he believed Ford and a woman were snorting cocaine in a private room at a restaurant.
“I have to take legal action against the waiter who said I was doing lines,” he said. “Outright lies, that is not true.”
The conservative Ford, 44, was elected in 2010 on a wave of discontent from Toronto’s outer suburbs over what voters considered wasteful spending and elitist politics at City Hall. But his term has been consumed by revelations of bad behavior, from public drunkenness to crack smoking to threatening to kill someone in a videotaped, incoherent rant.
The court documents released Wednesday are part of a drug case against Ford’s friend and occasional driver. Police interviews with Ford’s ex-staffers revealed their concerns about his drug use and drunk driving, with one staffer alleging another saw Ford “impaired, driving very fast” and frightening the female employee who was in the car with him.
In another incident, Ford was described by a former staff member as being “very inebriated, verbally abusive and inappropriate with” a female staff member on St. Patrick’s Day. Another former staffer reported seeing the mayor drunk in his office about 15 to 20 times in the year he worked for him.
Ford acknowledged to reporters that he might have consumed alcohol while driving in the past. But he immediately went on the defense.
“I’m not perfect. Maybe you are but I’m not, OK?” he told journalists. “I know none of you guys have ever had a drink and got behind the wheel.”
Later, many of Toronto’s 44-member City Council turned their backs as the mayor spoke about city affairs.
An ardent football fan, Ford wore a Toronto Argonauts football jersey and cowboy boots at the session, prompting a protest from the team.
“These latest remarks, while wearing our team’s jersey, are particularly disappointing,” the Canadian Football League team said in a statement.
The council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to ask Ford to take a leave of absence, but the motion was non-binding because the council lacks the authority to force the mayor from office unless he is convicted of a crime. The council is set to consider another motion today to strip Ford of some of his powers.
“This is one of the most stubborn, pig-headed people I think we have ever seen,” Councilor Janet Davis said. “He seems to have no self-awareness, no core of moral character. It is stunning.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said yesterday that the provincial government would be willing to step in and approve legislation to remove the mayor, but only if the council voted unanimously to seek that step and the provincial legislature supported it.
City Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong had considered introducing a motion asking the province to intervene but decided against it because of lack of support from councilors who feared setting a dangerous precedent.
No matter what the council does, Ford seems intent to remain in the limelight. The tabloid Sun News Network, announced that the mayor and his brother Doug, a city councilor, will do a current events television show called “Ford Nation” on Monday nights.