TORONTO - Right-wing juggernaut Rob Ford has been elected mayor of Canada's most populous city, defeating former deputy premier George Smitherman in a bitter 10-month race.

With 80 per cent of Toronto polls reporting, Ford took 50 per cent of the vote, compared to Smitherman's 33 per cent and third-place finisher Joe Pantalone at 11 per cent.

Smitherman was considered an early favourite to win, but couldn't compete against Ford who tapped into a potent well of voter fury with his tax-cutting, "stop the gravy train" message.

Polls closed in the Toronto race — and in the majority of the 443 other Ontario municipal races — at 8 p.m. ET.

Even the dying days of the contest were marred by ugly incidents, including homophobic ads targeting the openly gay Smitherman, and a newspaper article — later pulled from the Globe and Mail website — that took a shot at Ford's weight.

Many experts had predicted that a Ford victory could herald a conservative sweep in next fall's Ontario election.

After two terms of majority rule, recent polls suggest that Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty's popularity is fading over voter concerns with pocketbook issues, such as rising electricity bills and his controversial introduction of the harmonized sales tax.

By contrast, the race just west of the city in Mississauga has been decidedly uneventful, where voters are watching to see how well 89-year-old Mayor Hazel McCallion performs in her 12th election campaign.

"Hurricane" Hazel typically doesn't campaign, put up signs or buy political ads. Her 31-year tenure as mayor is considered to be so rock solid — a conflict-of-interest scandal involving her son is expected to barely make a dent in the 90 per cent voter support she's known to command.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, another former provincial cabinet minister — Jim Watson — is battling it out against businessman-turned-politician Larry O'Brien in a race dominated by transit and urban development issues.

Watson had 48 per cent of the vote with nearly half of all polls reporting. O'Brien had 24 per cent.

O'Brien, the conservative incumbent, made a startling admission earlier this month that his first two years as mayor were a "disaster," but implored voters to give him a second chance.

His rocky term as mayor of Canada's capital included allegations of influence peddling that forced him to step down temporarily as the matter went to trial. He resumed his duties after being acquitted.

Other interesting races include London, where former Liberal MP Joe Fontana is trying to keep long-standing Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best from winning a fourth term. Ex-Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua is also taking a shot at the mayor's seat in Vaughan, taking on incumbent Linda Jackson, who is headed to court to face Municipal Elections Act charges.

In all, there are 444 municipal votes in Ontario.