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Dogged by anger over TTC, Giambrone will have to move quickly

Has there ever been a less propitious launch to a mayoral campaign than this? It was less than two weeks ago that a subway rider captured the infamous photo of the fare collector asleep on the job. The picture brought to a head weeks - you could say years - of simmering anger about the sorry state of the TTC. Now, along comes Adam Giambrone with a little announcement: Hi, I'm Adam. I'm in charge of the TTC and I'm running for mayor.

It is like the skipper of the Titanic applying to be admiral of the fleet. Within minutes of Mr. Giambrone's appearance at City Hall to file his papers, the social media sites that he is so adept at using were burning up with disdain. "Gutsy move Adam Giambrone! Running for mayor after your bang-up job at TTC?'" said one sarcastic Twitter user. "Can't run the TTC; what makes him think he can run the entire CITY?" tweeted another . Ouch.

Is Mr. Giambrone's mayoral bid doomed by the TTC millstone around his neck, or can he shake it off and stage a credible run for the city's top job?

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His chances, at first glance, do not look good. The anger about the TTC is broad and deep. Riders are fed up with dirty stations, rude drivers and unexplained breakdowns. The sleeping-guy picture has come to symbolize what many see as the lax, uncaring attitude of a stagnant service. Better things are promised - new streetcars, a subway extension, more light rapid transit lines - but these are still years away. In the meantime, TTC users want to see some tangible improvement to everyday travel.

If Mr. Giambrone wants even a shadow of a chance of winning in October, he will have to deliver - and fast. His first attempt to win back the commuting public - announcing a blue-ribbon panel on customer service - was laughed off as too little, too late. So last week he offered riders a public apology and a list of promised improvements, from better microphones at ticket booths and a new online trip planner to more Metropass vending machines and more staff to explain delays.

All good ideas, even if they come years after they should have. Little things like these could make a world of difference to the experience of riding the TTC. But it will take some skillful, aggressive leadership to put them into effect at a bureaucratic monster like the TTC.

It won't do to say, as Mr. Giambrone did in a recent pronouncement, that he is merely chair of the TTC, not the general manager. That's true as far as it goes. He is the overseer, not the operations chief. But it doesn't absolve him of responsibility, and he can't afford to come across as trying to wriggle off the hook.

Far better to take the tack he seemed to be on last week and own up to the TTC's crisis and his role in it. Apologize for the recent snafus and embarrassments. Admit the TTC has to do much better. Work like hell to bring in visible measures that show he and the TTC are taking the crisis of confidence seriously.

If he can do all that, Mr. Giambrone has at least a shot at putting the TTC mess behind him. He could even turn it to his advantage. The TTC, says his campaign chief, John Laschinger, is a double-edged sword. Yes, it causes problems, but smart politicians love problems because they give them a chance to show their stuff. It's a long shot, but here is Mr. Giambrone's chance to show he has what it takes to be mayor.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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