Leading mayoral candidate George Smitherman went for Rob Ford’s political throat yesterday, saying his rival’s “disgusting” comments about homosexuals in 2006 make him unfit to lead Toronto.

In the first major debate, all six main hopefuls on stage, Smitherman seized his opportunity to pose one question to another candidate, taking Ford to task for his argument against a $1.5-million AIDS prevention strategy.

“It is very preventable,” Ford told council in 2006. “If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s the bottom line.”

He also said he didn’t understand why more women were becoming AIDS patients, adding: “Maybe they’re sleeping with bisexual men.”

In that year, more than 27 per cent of Torontonians diagnosed with HIV were women.

Nearly half of HIV-positive women in the city are from countries where it is endemic, and heterosexual sex is a primary means of transmission.

Smitherman, who is gay, turned to Ford and said: “I’d like you to explain to people how your character, and especially these comments, is justifiable now that you present yourself as someone who wishes to be mayor of Toronto, one of the most diverse places to be found anywhere in the world?”

Some audience members booed the attack. Ford did not apologize for, or try to explain, the remarks or any others he has made in a decade as an outspoken Etobicoke councillor.

“Let me tell you what Rob Ford’s character is about — it’s about integrity, it’s about helping kids get off the street, helping thousands of kids … I don’t talk the talk, I walk the walk. I have a Rob Ford football foundation. I’m caring.”

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