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Toronto Candidate accuses Jane Pitfield campaign of 'impeding democracy'

On the same day that longtime city council veteran Case Ootes announced to the media that he will not run again, former councillor and mayoralty candidate Jane Pitfield registered to run in Ootes old ward, Ward 29.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The tight race in Ward 29 took a nasty turn Thursday, with candidate Jennifer Wood accusing the campaign of rival Jane Pitfield of "impeding democracy" after a former Pitfield campaign worker urged Ms. Wood to withdraw from the race.

Rita Smith, the political organizer who wrote the email, said she was simply providing Ms. Wood with advice that could help her career in the future. Ms. Pitfield said that Ms. Smith hasn't been involved with her campaign for weeks.

The right-leaning Ms. Pitfield, a former councillor, is locked in a tough battle for the Danforth council seat against Mary Fragedakis, who has the endorsement of several NDP politicians, including area MP Jack Layton.

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Ms. Pitfield's supporters have feared that Ms. Wood, a lawyer and political rookie, could split their candidate's vote and hand the election to Ms. Fragedakis.

On Thursday morning, Ms. Smith sent Ms. Wood an email asking her to pull out of the race.

"You would be doing the right thing for the right reason, and everyone would admire your judgement in the situation," Ms. Smith wrote. "Staying in just gives Mary Fragedakis that much more chance of winning by 100 votes."

Ms. Wood's campaign turned the email over to the media, as the candidate said the suggestion she should drop out was "undermining the democratic process."

"The best candidate should prevail and the voters of Ward 29 will choose that, regardless of political affiliation," she said, shortly before heading to an all-candidates meeting, where she planned to question Ms. Pitfield about the email.

Ms. Smith confirmed sending the email, but said Ms. Pitfield didn't know about it beforehand.

She said she sent the note because she had offered Ms. Wood her advice in the past and wanted to let her know that it would be in her best interest to back out of the race.

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"She has the potential to split the centre to right-of-centre vote and [Ms. Fragedakis]could win," she said. "In a future election, when everyone looks at her, they'll remember that."

While she acknowledged that she had previously worked on the campaign, she said she left in early September to work on the campaign of Martin Gladstone in nearby Beaches-East York. Mr. Gladstone dropped out of that race last week and endorsed Mary-Margaret McMahon in a bid to unseat incumbent Sandra Bussin.

On Thursday evening, Ms. Pitfield confirmed Ms. Smith was no longer working with her and said she wasn't urging Ms. Wood to throw in the towel.

"I have been in seven campaigns, and I have never suggested to anyone that they should step down," she said.

The ward is an open race, after incumbent councillor Case Ootes declined to seek re-election. Ms. Pitfield left council four years ago in a failed mayoral bid against David Miller.

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