HE IS the crack-cocaine-smoking populist politician whose video-taped exploits have found infamy on the internet and dominated water-cooler conversations across Canada.
And Toronto mayor Rob Ford acknowledged “rocky moments over the past year”, as he vowed to fight harder than ever to win re-election, at the official launch of his campaign.
The 44-year-old – who has admitted smoking crack cocaine “in a drunken stupor” – is seeking a second term as premier of Canada’s biggest city.
The right-leaning populist, whose authority was reduced last year by a city council exhausted by his antics, took over a huge convention centre in Toronto’s west end for the event, hawking bobble-head dolls to raise funds ahead of the election on 27 October.
First elected mayor in 2010 on a cost-cutting platform, Mr Ford has become indisputably the most famous leader in the city’s history, and continues to poll relatively strongly in spite of a scandal that prompted staffers to desert him and has cost him nearly all of his allies on the council.
“There have been some rocky moments over the past year. I have experienced how none of us go through life without making mistakes,” he told a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters, before launching into a speech trumpeting his efforts to “cut the gravy” at city hall.
“Four years ago I stood before you with this pledge. I pledged to respect taxpayers. I pledged to stop the gravy train. I pledged to stop elites who would take money out of your pocket and put it in theirs,” he said, surrounded on stage by his wife, two children, siblings and mother.
“I stand before you four years later and say I have kept those promises.”
At the front of the room, a red fire truck was emblazoned with Ford’s oft-repeated claim that he has saved taxpayers C$1 billion (£540 million).
Mr Ford – who, as with all municipal politicians, is an independent – first hit international headlines last May when the Toronto Star newspaper and website Gawker both reported the existence of a video of him smoking crack cocaine.
In November, he admitted smoking crack, while police revealed that they had been watching the mayor for months after his name surfaced in a drug investigation.
Police have not charged Mr Ford with anything, but his public image has continued to take hits, as videos have surfaced of the mayor ranting drunkenly about various subjects, including the chief of police.
He has also admitted to buying illegal drugs and driving after drinking, but has said he is not addicted to drugs or alcohol.
He typically brushes off questions about the scandal as “old news”.
Despite the scandal and the measures the council took to transfer much of his authority to deputy mayor Norm Kelly, recent poll numbers show Mr Ford to be in a solid second place in the race for mayor.
A Forum Research poll this week showed him with 27 per cent support, trailing the 34 per cent for left-leaning candidate Olivia Chow, and ahead of the 24 per cent support for John Tory, who, like Mr Ford, is more right-leaning.
Polls have shown Mr Ford’s support, while weak in central Toronto, is still strong in the suburban boroughs of Etobicoke and Scarborough.
And while Mr Ford has painted much of the media attention as attacks, he has also embraced the publicity, accepting interviews with US networks in the wake of the scandal and appearing on late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Frank Anane, 34, munching complimentary crisps and holding a stack of “Ford Nation” bumper stickers at the rally, said he supported Mr Ford because he keeps his promises.
“Whatever he says he’s going to do, he does. Most of them are liars. He’s the only one of them that does what he says,” Mr Anane said.