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Ford leads in first poll after Rossi's withdrawal

TorontoCity Mayoral Candidate Rob Ford is photographed during an interview at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and MailToronto,/Deborah Baic/The Globe and MailToronto,

The first poll in a newly narrowed mayoral field shows Rob Ford maintaining his lead as the Toronto election enters its final stretch, and councillors align themselves along the two leading candidates.

A Forum Research poll put Mr. Ford six points ahead, with 44 per cent support among decided voters compared to George Smitherman's 38. Joe Pantalone had 16 per cent.

The poll, which was conducted Thursday, surveyed 800 people and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

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Both Mr. Ford and George Smitherman picked up valuable political backers this week after Rocco Rossi dropped out of the race, saying he'd rather voters focus their scrutiny on the two candidates who appear to be battling over a razor-thin margin of support.

And with just over a week left until election day, the city's political movers and shakers are putting their money down on their candidates of choice.

Peter Milczyn announced Friday he's backing Mr. Ford. The Etobicoke councillor was one of the last loyalists holding out hope for a John Tory candidacy, putting together a shadow platform even as his candidate of choice decided not to run.

"I think [Mr. Ford]has a clear direction that he wants to go in …a very simple message that resonates very strongly in my ward," Mr. Milczyn said.

In August, however, he wasn't quite so sure: Mr. Milczyn said he was hesitating before throwing his support behind Mr. Ford because he had "no real platform."

But on Friday, he said although he doesn't agree with all of Mr. Ford's policies - he wouldn't scrap the city's streetcars, for instance - "at the end of the day I just thought Rob's sincerity of his message and the delivery of the message was what has won so many people over. People believe Rob."

Mr. Milczyn said Mr. Ford hasn't offered him any particular position on council should he become mayor, but "he did ask me what my interests are in terms of, you know, policy issues at the city."

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Mr. Milczyn joins John Parker, who endorsed Mr. Ford Friday, as well as Mike del Grande and former mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti in the ranks of councillors who've endorsed Mr. Ford.

As for Mr. Smitherman, he garnered a formal endorsement Friday from former mayor Art Eggleton, who hasn't endorsed a mayoral candidate in the past 19 years. The stakes in this election are high, Mr. Eggleton said in an interview.

"It's a significant one: It's a very tight race," he said. "Toronto will survive regardless of who becomes mayor, but I'm hopeful that George will get the job. I think he's got the leadership qualities that are necessary. He's got a dynamic vision."

And councillor Adam Vaughan said he plans to vote for Mr. Smitherman - and is telling residents of his downtown ward to do the same if they don't want Mr. Ford to be mayor.

"Joe's [Pantalone]a friend, but elections are elections. This election is clearly becoming a two-horse race, and if that's the choice in front of Torontonians, I'm prepared to work for George Smitherman. I'm not prepared to work with Rob Ford. I don't think he has a vision that supports my ward."

With a report from John Lorinc

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