Former city councillor David Soknacki filed his nomination papers on Monday to run to become Toronto's next mayor, saying the city "can do better" and pledging to run a campaign based on openness and accountability.
Mr. Soknacki is considered the first serious competitor to jump into the race to challenge the scandal-plagued Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. And though he didn't specifically mention Mr. Ford's recent drug admissions or police activity involving the mayor, Mr. Soknacki took aim at the resulting turmoil that has engulfed Toronto's City Hall.
"Toronto is facing serious challenges," he told reporters at City Hall after filing his papers. "If we are going to take them on, and change our city for the better, we need to have level-headed, practical, productive leadership."
Instead of announcing his policy platform, Mr. Soknacki used his appearance on Monday to make a number of pledges about how he intends to run his campaign, and how he would run the Office of Mayor if elected.
He pledged to post campaign donor information publicly in real time, to post all meetings he takes with lobbyists, and to make his schedule public – the latter pledge appearing to be a reference to Mayor Rob Ford, who does not currently publish or release his schedules to the media. Mr. Soknacki also pledged to steer clear of conflicts of interest with respect to corporate board memberships and with his private business.
Mr. Soknacki, 59, was a councillor from 1999 until 2006, during which time he served as mayor David Miller's first budget chief. He also served one term as a Scarborough councillor before that.
Mr. Soknacki, who holds an MBA from the University of Western Ontario, has run his own spice and flavouring business since 1986.
Councillor Paul Ainslie, who described Mr. Soknacki as "fiscally conservative," stood by to lend his support for his former boss – Mr. Ainslie used to serve as Mr. Soknacki's executive assistant for several years.
"I think he'll bring a lot of stability to the job," Mr. Ainslie said of Mr. Soknacki. "As I said, he can work with people right across the political spectrum. He can go out and talk to people – David takes advice very well, and I think those are all qualities we need as mayor."
But Mayor Ford, who filed his nomination papers on Thursday, didn't seem overly concerned about competition from Mr. Soknacki. In a press conference Monday, he said: "I look forward to challenging David Miller's ex-budget chief."
And Councillor Doug Ford, who is running his brother's re-election campaign, took the opportunity to take a swipe at Mr. Soknacki's focus on accountability. "What's he going to explain about the mess he put us in as budget chair under David Miller? Maybe he can release that – how he put us a billion dollars in debt."
So far, there are almost 20 candidates registered to run for the mayoralty in Toronto's 2014 municipal election.
Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz has announced that she intends to run for mayor, though she has not yet filed her nomination papers. Other people said to be considering a bid include John Tory, the former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader who ran second to Mr. Miller in 2003, and MP Olivia Chow, a former city councillor.
The deadline for candidates to register for the Oct. 27 election is Sept. 12.
Meanwhile, in his second such visit in three weeks, Mr. Ford took in a church service at All Nations Full Gospel Church in Toronto on Sunday evening.
"He greeted us, thanked us for inviting him, promised us that whatever he promises, he will," said a pastor who declined to give her name. "… He said he's made some mistakes and he promises that it will not happen again."
All Nations Full Gospel Church asked Mr. Ford to attend a service in late December, which he declined because of a previous commitment, the pastor said. Then, on Sunday afternoon, the mayor informed the church's leadership that he would attend the evening service.
"We invited him like we'd invite any councillor or anybody to come and join our service," she said.
The mayor was well received by the 400 or so people who attended the service, the pastor said.
Mr. Ford's visit to All Nations Full Gospel Church came three weeks after he attended the West Toronto Church of God, where he was videotaped dancing with the congregation.
With a report from Jill Mahoney.