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Mayor-elect Rob Ford celebrates victory in Toronto on Oct. 25, 2010.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

There will be time enough to discuss Rob Ford's policy proposals - depending on how he plays his cards in the months to come. But right now, it has to be said: That's how you win.

As I wrote after moderating a debate between the principal candidates earlier in the race, Mr. Ford's opponents were unwise to underestimate him.This was a smart, disciplined and targetted candidate who knew exactly what he was doing.

Mr. Ford demonstrated some fundamentals that hold true for all political persuasions.

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Have a clear message, and stick to it. "Respect for Taxpayers" was a pretty good slogan in this environment.

Speak to the main issue ("hunt where the ducks are," as Preston Manning used to say). Clearly the public was in the mood to give city hall a kick.

Don't let your opponents discourage you. A case in point: the Toronto Star did just about everything it possibly could to break Mr. Ford's campaign, while providing his principal opponent with priceless free advertising in numerous "news" articles. It didn't work, because Mr. Ford shrugged off that press campaign and stuck to his message. The Star's campaign probably helped Mr. Ford and hurt George Smitherman, by giving Mr. Ford a high-profile problem he could solve by simply not blinking.

Joe Pantalone ran a dignified, clear and principled campaign. So did Rocco Rossi - in many ways the candidate who was the biggest surprise of this election. But it wasn't there.

Now comes the interesting part. How will the new Toronto council shake out? Some excellent new progressive voices were elected, including Mike Layton (continuing a fine family tradition) and Sarah Doucette, who was a bit of a giant-killer in retaking David Miller's former council seat from a more conservative incumbent. They and like-minded colleagues will need to keep their own commitments to their constituents thoughtfully and strategically: Mr. Ford won a respectable mandate from Torontonians, and so has earned the right to put an agenda before council and to have it be seriously considered.

That doesn't mean council shouldn't do its job.

Meanwhile, people committed to a progressive vision for Toronto will do well to internalize the lessons of this campaign. That's what's great about politics - there are always things to relearn.

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