Toronto Mayor Rob Ford defends himself against crack-smoking accusations

(CBS News) The mayor of North America's fourth largest city is defending himself against accusations he smoked crack. Rob Ford is the mayor of Toronto. He denies the claims, but police say they've got video the mayor may have a hard time explaining.

Just three years ago, Toronto's newly elected mayor was enormously popular. His larger-than-life personality and boisterous nature made the conservative politician seem like a fun guy to be around.

"He walks down the street, and people reach out to touch him," said Michael Cooke, editor of the Toronto Star. "He's instantly recognizable. He's a big man in all meanings of that word."

But a series of bizarre incidents and anti-gay statements have left residents scratching their heads.

"His behavior has been extraordinary," said Cooke. "Over the last two or three years he's been caught in Florida smoking marijuana. He denied it. He's been caught at a sports event in Toronto attacking other fans and had been thrown out of the stadium. He denies it."

Then, in May, a photograph appeared of Ford standing outside a known crack house in Toronto.

"He was pictured with three other men, clearly having a great time, having a great party," Cooke said.

Turns out, Toronto police had been conducting surveillance on their own mayor. On Thursday, Police Chief Bill Blair held a press conference to describe a video showing Ford allegedly smoking crack.

"No one has been treated differently because of who they are or the position they hold," Blair said.

So far, Ford has not been charged. But he is showing signs of strain.

The video will be presented as evidence in the extortion trial of the mayor's friend and sometime driver, Alexander Lisi.

Ford has repeatedly refused to quit, despite mounting calls to do so.

"He's gone from that, which is slightly comedic, all the way through to tragedy," said Cooke. "This is a terrible story for this city and an international embarrassment."

Ford's attorney doesn't deny that is the mayor in the video, but he suggests Ford might be smoking something other than crack cocaine.