The race for Mayor of Toronto has begun in earnest and the elbows are up, with Rob Ford and his challengers vying for position against newest contender Olivia Chow.
Ms. Chow officially entered the campaign late Wednesday after resigning as an NDP MP. She avoided the standard photo-op by using an agent to file her papers, choosing to make her first appearance as a candidate Thursday morning at a downtown church. While she ducked the cameras, she didn't escape the attacks, with her main competitors providing a taste of what the city can expect in an election that already has captured international attention because of the exploits of the mayor.
Ms. Chow is considered the first serious left-wing candidate to enter the race with an already crowded field on the right. The centre-right candidates include Mr. Ford, Councillor Karen Stintz, former budget chief David Soknacki, and former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory. To make it to the mayor's office, the winning candidate will need to appeal to a broad demographic and capture at least a portion of the suburban voters that propelled Mr. Ford to office four years ago.
Mr. Ford, who for the third straight day visited tenants in apartment towers, threw back his head and laughed when asked if he was worried Ms. Chow would erode his base of supporters.
"No way José. It's not happening," he said. Asked for his message to Toronto voters, he said: "Olivia Chow makes David Miller look like a conservative."
The team around Ms. Chow has been drawn from a broad swath of the political spectrum.
John Laschinger, a former national director of the Progressive Conservatives, will be her campaign manager. Mr. Laschinger ran the successful campaign of former Toronto mayor David Miller, a member of the NDP. But he also organized the election bid of former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and the less successful run of the Progressive Conservatives under Mr. Tory in the 2007 Ontario provincial election.
Another campaign leader is Joe Cressy, who chaired her run for re-election in 2011. Mr. Cressy is an experienced NDP operative who has worked for politicians like Paul Dewar, the MP for Ottawa Centre who ran for the leadership of the NDP in 2012.
Then there is Warren Kinsella, a legend of Liberal backrooms. Mr. Kinsella, a former special assistant in the office of Jean Chrétien, will run her war room, much as he did for former Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty in 2003 and 2007.
Jamey Heath, a former communications and research director for her husband Jack Layton, will be her communications director. Mr. Heath was instrumental in British Columbia MP Nathan Cullen's surge to a second-place finish in the federal NDP leadership that was won by Thomas Mulcair.
The attacks on Ms. Chow were numerous on Wednesday. She "doesn't even know where Etobicoke and Scarborough is. They're going to have to give her a road map," Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor's campaign manager, told The Globe and Mail. The Tory campaign issued a statement saying Ms. Chow "never met a public dollar she couldn't spend." It followed up with a website, valueofadollar.ca, that featured a taxpayer-funded mailing that arrived at households in her riding this week from her MP office. An adviser to Ms. Stintz painted Ms. Chow as a "double-dipper," alleging that she'd lived in subsidized housing while collecting a councillor salary, and criticizing her for seeking a mayor's salary on top of her MP pension.
Mr. Sokacki kept his message positive, saying he "looked forward" to hearing Ms. Chow's ideas during the campaign.
"It will be the nastiest, bloodiest election in recent memory," Doug Ford predicted, while pledging to run a "clean campaign" himself.
"It's predictable, bad politics," said Ms. Chow's spokesman Jamey Heath. Responding to the double-dipping charge, he said Ms. Chow paid full market rent when she and her husband, the late NDP leader Jack Layton, lived in a downtown Toronto co-op in the eighties, calling the accusation "a pathetic, 100-per-cent lie." If elected mayor, he said, Ms. Chow will donate her MP pension to charity.
Responding to the Tory campaign's attack, Mr. Heath pointed out she "has balanced more budgets because she's won more elections."
On the comments from the mayor's brother, he said: "Doug Ford is the second biggest reason it's time for a new mayor. It's time to return some respect to city hall."
Mike Layton, who dispelled speculation, saying he will run for re-election as a city councillor and will not seek to fill the federal seat vacated by Ms. Chow, said he looks forward to working at city hall alongside his stepmother.
And he added that there is at least one well-known precedent for family members sitting on council together. "There's two brothers elected right now that have made things interesting. I don't suspect it will be awkward at all. We're both professionals," he said.
With files from Gloria Galloway in Ottawa