The race for Toronto’s next mayor is shaping up to be a showdown between two political foes who once battled it out in the Ontario legislature.

George Smitherman — Premier Dalton McGuinty’s right-hand man and top enforcer — dropped out of cabinet yesterday to pursue a bid to be mayor, potentially pitting him against former Progressive Conservative leader John Tory.

Tory, a wealthy and well-connected political operative for former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell, is mulling another shot at the city’s top job after losing to David Miller in 2003.

Smitherman, who had been serving as energy and infrastructure minister, said he’s taking the leap because his hometown needs him, not because he couldn’t see a way to move up from being McGuinty’s No. 2 man.

“Had I chose to remain, I think I have a very good future here,” Smitherman said, adding that he’s been given “extraordinary opportunities” in both the health and energy portfolios.

“But my city calls out. My city shows that it has a need to restore a sense of power to the office. And I think that I have the skills — a combination of experience, passion, energy and roots in the city that make me well-suited to this challenge.”

But Tory could prove to be a challenge. A recent poll suggested about half of decided voters would vote for Tory, with Smitherman coming a distant second with about 20 per cent support.

Tory declined to comment yesterday on whether he’d throw his hat in the race, saying only that he’s still giving it “serious consideration.”

Instead, he invited his would-be rival on his afternoon talk radio show, which Smitherman accepted.

The ball is now in Tory’s court to decide if he wants to run against him, Smitherman said.

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