TORONTO – The race for mayor of Canada’s most populous city is turning out to be one of the hottest tickets in the country, attracting luminaries from all political arenas – national, provincial and municipal.
From a former Ontario cabinet minister to a one-time provincial party leader, a former Winnipeg mayor and city councillors from both sides of the political spectrum – all have either dipped their toes into the race to become Toronto mayor or have already jumped right in.
The fact that the city is struggling to emerge from a serious recession and faces significant money challenges doesn’t seem to have deterred star talent from the election to be held Oct. 25, 2010.
Rocco Rossi, the national director of the federal Liberal party, was the latest candidate to put his name on the ballot Monday.
Rossi has already resigned as the party’s top administrator and fundraiser. He joins another Liberal in the mayoralty contest, former Ontario cabinet minister George Smitherman, and current city Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, considered to be on the right.
Yet another Liberal, former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray, considered a run earlier this year but decided against it, opting instead to try to fill Smitherman’s shoes in the Ontario legislature.
And January – the earliest date candidates can officially register for the race – looks to be a busy month.
Supporters of former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory say he is expected to register at that time.
Adam Giambrone, chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission and a young councillor on the left, sounds positive about a run.
“I had meetings today with various people, I’m getting a lot of encouragement … things feel very good, I will have to consider what I’ve heard, and I’ll be in a position to make that decision in early January and announce the team and as well a specific platform. The team is coming together very well.”
In announcing his candidacy Monday outside Toronto City Hall, Rossi appealed to the diverse voters of the city by speaking in Spanish, French, Italian and English to declare: “I’m big, I’m bald and I’ve got bold ideas for the city.”
Recalling his Italian-Canadian roots, Rossi said, “This city is phenomenal. It’s given everything to my family. It’s given us a lifetime of progressively better tomorrows, and that’s what I want for every inhabitant of Toronto.”
Rossi gave an early indication of how he would handle the city’s fiscal challenges by announcing he would sell off some municipal assets, including Toronto Hydro, to raise money rather than depending on help from Ontario or Ottawa.
“I don’t always want to have to go hat in hand to the province and the feds and quite frankly … don’t count on a whole lot of money coming from them.”
The former businessman, aide to federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and head of the Heart and Stroke Foundation also pledged to cut his mayoral salary by 10 per cent and then freeze it for his four-year term of office should he win.
That would save less than $67,000 over the four years, but is intended to appeal to a city dealing with a 9.6 per cent unemployment rate.
He encouraged city councillors to roll back the more than two per cent wage increase they received earlier this year, saying politicians need to show “moral authority” before negotiating with municipal staff next time around.
“We have to lead by example,” he said.
Rossi served as campaign manager in Tory’s failed bid for the city’s mayoralty in 2003, but a Tory supporter, Bob Richardson, said he was not surprised to see Rossi on the ballot.
“We like Rocco Rossi and we wish him well.”
While Toronto municipal politics is officially party-free, there are definite ideological blocs of councillors that often vote together.
But some observers are not worried Smitherman and Rossi will split the small “l” liberal vote in the city because Rossi is not well enough known by the public.
Despite his Liberal roots, Rossi said he hoped to attract voters from across the political spectrum.
“I believe in a partnership of the right and the left. I believe in partnership of government and the private sector, he said, describing himself as “fiscally conservative … and socially very liberal.”
“Call me a blue Liberal or a red Tory, but call me effective,” he said.