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Toronto council strips besieged mayor of some powers

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks during a city council meeting at City Hall in Toronto November 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Blacker
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks during a city council meeting at City Hall in Toronto November 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Blacker

TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto city council voted to strip scandal-plagued Mayor Rob Ford of some of his powers on Friday but Ford, who admits he smoked crack cocaine while in office, promised to challenge the moves in court.

With few legal mechanisms available to remove Ford from office, Toronto city councilors across the political spectrum have been searching for ways to curb the power of the populist mayor, who was elected in 2010 on a promise to save taxpayers' money.

Ford said he understood why councilors were voting to reduce his power, but said he has no option but to launch a legal challenge, even though it will waste the city's money in legal fees.

"If I would have had a mayor acting the way I've conducted myself, I would have done the exact same thing," Ford said of council's vote.

"Obviously, in my situation I have to support myself, and I think anybody in my position would have done the same."

In comments that have made international headlines, Ford has admitted to buying illegal drugs and driving after consuming alcohol, as well as to having used crack. But he says he was elected to do a job and that he won't step down.

He has also vowed to run for mayor again in next October's election.

Council voted 39 to three to suspend the mayor's ability to appoint and dismiss the deputy mayor and the heads of council committees. Ford and his brother, Councilor Doug Ford, and one other councilor voted no.

Council also voted 41 to two to give the deputy mayor, rather than the mayor, special powers during emergencies such as natural disasters. Only the Ford brothers voted no.

"We have been frankly fortunate that no emergencies have landed on the same dates on which we know the mayor's judgment may have been impaired," said Councilor John Filion, who proposed the changes. "The members of council that I've spoken to do not wish to push our luck on that."

Councilors, some of whom have pointedly turned their backs on Ford while he has spoken in recent meetings, are expected on Monday to consider slashing his office budget.

The furor over the mayor's drug use emerged in the spring after U.S. media blog Gawker and the Toronto Star newspaper both said they had viewed a cell phone video that appeared to show him smoking crack cocaine.

Ford spent months dodging questions about the video, but admitted earlier this month that he had used the drug "in one of my drunken stupors".

The saga, punctuated by Ford's combative exchanges with reporters and by his emotional apologies, has transfixed Toronto residents and late-night comedy writers alike.

On Thursday afternoon, the mayor apologized for an obscene outburst made as he denied an allegation he had made sexual overtures to an employee. He said he is getting professional help regarding his drinking.

(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Janet Guttsman; and Peter Galloway)

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