WASHINGTON - Toronto's Rob Ford is a sensation south of the border thanks to reports of a videotape that appears to show him sucking on a crack pipe, a story with apparent parallels to the spectacular travails of Marion Barry, the crack-smoking former mayor of Washington, D.C.
The U.S. website Gawker first broke the story after someone associated with Toronto's drug trade tried to sell the video to one of its reporters. John Cook didn't buy the video but wrote a lengthy post about the attempts to peddle it to him and his own efforts to confirm the story.
The Toronto Star said it saw the video two weeks ago, and while it had no way to verify it, reported that it appears to show the mayor sitting in a well-lit room, inhaling from what appears to be a glass crack pipe.
Ford is also allegedly heard making several disparaging and crude remarks about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and the high school football team he coaches.
Dennis Morris, a lawyer obtained by Ford, told the Star that it's impossible to determine what anyone's doing simply by viewing videotape.
"How can you indicate what the person is actually doing or smoking?" Morris said.
Fox News and USA Today, among other American media outlets, carried stories Friday on the latest scandal to plague Ford.
The seamy allegations have also caused a social media eruption among American journalists, media watchdogs and news junkies.
Many made comparisons to Barry, the notorious former mayor of D.C. who was videotaped smoking crack in January 1990 and arrested by FBI officials on drug charges.
Barry, now a D.C. city councillor, served six months in a federal prison as his infamous proclamations while being arrested — "Bitch set me up!" — became fodder for gleeful late-night comics. "Bitch Set Me Up" T-shirts were hotly coveted souvenirs in the U.S. capital for years after Barry's arrest.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza urged Ford on Twitter to "call your office" while linking to the Gawker post that featured a screen grab from the video — the mayor appearing to yuk it up as he stands between two alleged drug dealers.
"Rob Ford is Canadian for Marion Barry," tweeted Jeff Passan, a baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports.
"Just like Marion Barry, but with flannel!" tweeted a wag named Todd Bentley in New Jersey.
Ford, if guilty, can take some solace in Barry's troubles — the D.C. politician was returned to the mayoralty in 1994, serving from 1995 to 1999.
But a movement called Stop Marion Barry, which says it's been "setting the record straight on Marion Barry's failed leadership since 2004," pointed to the Ford scandal as further evidence of the former's D.C. mayor's sorry record.
"What a legacy. A big city mayor caught smoking crack and everyone immediately thinks of @MarionBarryJr.," the group tweeted on Friday.