Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is turning to his passion for football and his volunteer work with youth in the face of findings that he is using city resources to run and coach his teams.
A statement issued by the mayor's office Wednesday afternoon called anyone who criticized his staff "cowards," but did not address his use of taxpayer-funded resources such as cellphones, for his football teams.
"I'm okay if Councillors want to criticize me for helping kids. That's their right," the statement quotes the mayor as saying. "I'm a big guy and I can take it. However, Councillors should not be criticizing my staff. Each and every one of them works hard every day for the taxpayers of this great city. They put in at least 40 hours of work for taxpayers every week. Often more."
Mr. Ford's statement pointed out the importance of volunteers but does not say - as his brother did earlier in the day - that his staff were volunteering when they worked on football matters or came to the field during office hours.
The mayor also did not mention the use of city cellphones to organize football activities.
Mr. Ford issued his statement in response to an investigation that found he has hired the former quarterback for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues to work as a "special assistant" in his office.
The aide, Andrew Gillis, was photographed Tuesday afternoon helping at practice at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, where the mayor has served as a long-time volunteer football coach.
The Globe story also found that two of the mayor's other "special assistants" – one of whom has since left the mayor's office – listed their names and taxpayer-funded cellphone numbers as contacts on the official Facebook page for the Rexdale Raiders, the mayor's summer football squad.
"It is no secret Mayor Rob Ford is passionate about football. He remains committed to supporting and creating opportunities for youth to better enhance their health, fitness and future prospects," the statement says.
"The Mayor's job is 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Despite this, Mayor Ford also volunteers hundreds of hours each year as a youth football coach and for other worthy causes," it says, a reference to critics who say he is not devoting enough of his time to city hall.
Councillor Doug Ford called The Globe and Mail Wednesday morning to say the mayor's office employees who are helping with his brother's football programs are doing so as "volunteers" after clocking their 40-hour weeks on the taxpayer's dime.
"This is on their own time, after 40 hours," the councillor said. "Rob doesn't force anyone to work on city time."
Asked why the aides used their city-issue phones for football purposes, the councillor said: "I can't answer it. But let's be honest. If it was the Toronto Environmental Alliance you wouldn't be writing it."
Councillor Ford said the media should focus on the good work the mayor does with the many poor, fatherless youth he supports through his volunteer coaching duties with the Don Bosco Eagles and the Rexdale Raiders.
"This is all about two things: Rob Ford and football," he said. "If it was the tree-huggers or whatever, you wouldn't care."
Councillor Ford accused The Globe of unjustly attacking his brother and vowed to take a tougher stance with the media.
"I'm changing my rules," he said. "Every time you guys go after Rob, I'm going after you."