Councillor Karen Stintz – the high-profile transit chair who took on Rob Ford over subways – is sending strong signals that she wants to make the mayor's office her next stop.
The North Toronto councillor made headlines when she led a council revolt against Mr. Ford's unfunded, underground-only transit vision, but she has made a habit of playing down her political ambitions.
That's no longer the case.
Ms. Stintz is no longer ruling out a run at the city's top job if the mayor loses his appeal of a judge's order to oust him from office and a by-election is called.
"All options are open and at this point I wouldn't close the door," she told The Globe and Mail in an interview. "I've always said I would never run against Rob Ford. If Rob Ford wasn't running, that would certainly be one obstacle that would no longer be there."
In her fight to save the TTC's light-rail plan, Ms. Stintz showed she could build alliances across council, a trait that many speculated at the time would make her a formidable candidate for mayor.
"I would expect there would be a number of councillors that would be interested [in running in a by-election,]" she said. "Until we know the outcome of the appeal it is premature to speculate on what anybody would do."
Councillor John Parker, a TTC commissioner and close confidant of Ms. Stintz's, is urging her to throw her hat in the ring.
"I would expect that a lot of folks are offering advice right now and encouraging her to take a serious look at it," he said. "I think she should go for it. I think she would be good on the job and I think she would be a strong candidate."
While councillors from all sides continue to jockey in the wake of an Ontario Superior Court ruling that concluded the mayor violated a conflict-of-interest law, Councillor Doug Ford vowed to keep fighting for his brother's cost-cutting agenda, leaving the door ajar to his own by-election run.
"There'll be a Ford on the ballot, that's all I can say," the Etobicoke councillor told The Globe and Mail. "The people have to speak in a democratic society. Not unelected officials, not council – the people. We don't live in Egypt having judges decide who is going to be our leaders. We live in Canada. We are going to go to the polls, hopefully."
Talking to reporters later he clarified his comments, saying by "a Ford" on the ballot, he meant Rob Ford.
"There's no plan to have Doug Ford run because we actually believe that Rob Ford is the mayor and will be the mayor," said Nick Kouvalis, the former chief of staff who ran the mayor's winning campaign in 2010. "Other than people talking, there's no plan, other than people just bringing it up."
A judge ruled this week that Rob Ford violated provincial rules when he spoke and voted at a February council meeting to free himself from personally repaying more than $3,000 in improper donations to his football charity. As part of that ruling, he will be removed from office Dec. 10, unless the mayor's lawyers are successful in winning a temporary stay of the removal order.
The appeal itself is expected to be heard in early January.
If that appeal fails and council calls a by-election, the city's top lawyer has said the mayor cannot run because the ruling bars him from holding elected office until the current term ends in 2014.
The mayor's legal team disputes that interpretation and is asking for a clarification from the court.
With a report from Oliver Moore