(Adds apology quote, background and poll numbers)
By Cameron French
TORONTO, June 30 (Reuters) - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said on Monday he had been in "complete denial" about his drinking and drug use before entering a rehabilitation clinic two months ago, and admitted that his struggle against substance abuse will never end.
Ford made comments as he returned to city hall and rejoined a re-election campaign where he is running in second place, according to a recent poll. He took leave on April 30, saying at the time he needed to deal with an alcohol problem.
"For a long, long time I resisted the idea of getting help. Like a lot of people dealing with substance abuse, I was in complete denial. I had convinced myself that I did not have a problem," Ford told reporters, at points appearing to fight back tears.
"Substance abuse is a very, very difficult thing to overcome but I will keep battling this disease for the rest of my life."
Ford said staff at the rehab facility, which is a two-hour drive north of Toronto in the cottage-country Muskoka region, forced him to confront "personal demons" and saved his life.
The mayor entered rehab after months of denials that he had a substance abuse problem and nearly a year after a media report surfaced that he appeared in a video smoking crack. He became a global media sensation after he admitted that he had smoked the drug while in a "drunken stupor."
Several other recordings emerged of the mayor ranting, slurring his words and making crude comments, including one in which he made lewd remarks about rival mayoral candidate Karen Stintz.
Ford, who did not take questions from the media on Monday, singled out the city councillor in his comments.
"To my fellow councillors and especially to Karen Stintz, for my hurtful, degrading remarks I offer a deep-felt apology for my behavior," he said.
Ford has been under investigation by Toronto police over the past year after his name popped up in a drug probe. Police did not immediately return a call seeking an update on the investigation.
Exasperated by his antics, the Toronto city council stripped Ford of much of his power last fall and handed it to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who stood in for the mayor during his time in rehab.
Even so, and despite Ford's absence from the campaign trail, polls show he is still very much a factor in the mayoral race ahead of the October election.
A poll released last week by Forum Research showed Ford at 27 percent, trailing front-runner Olivia Chow at 34 percent, and leading John Tory at 24 percent. The number are similar to poll results from April, before Ford went on leave.
First elected mayor in 2010, Ford has maintained a cost-cutting "respect the taxpayer" mantra that has resonated with many suburban voters. He often paints himself as a champion of the suburbs against downtown "elites". (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Leslie Adler)