October 21, 2010 / 6:37 PM / in 7 years

Toronto's mayor's race narrows, may be tactical

TORONTO (Reuters) - A scrappy race to run Toronto has just two front-runners left as voters decide whether to elect a frugal right-winger in a liberal city.

<p>Members of the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force (ETF) team repel down the west tower city hall during a demonstration in Toronto, in an undated file photo. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>

The race for Toronto mayor once had conservative candidate Rob Ford, a suburban city councilor and businessman, as its runaway favorite. But support for Ford eased as also-ran candidates pulled out, and he is now neck and neck with a liberal ex-minister from Toronto’s province of Ontario.

“It’s been an election campaign that has more than anything been characterized by a kind of angry, resentful, almost vengeful kind of climate,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson University, noting a perception among voters about self-serving politicians and City Hall officials.

“It’s time for the taxpayers to get even.”

Toronto is Canada’s biggest city and its financial capital. In federal elections the city tends to vote Liberal or for the left-leaning New Democrats, while many of the suburbs that ring it vote Conservative.

Ford promised to eliminate Toronto’s C$500 million deficit to create a C$1.7 billion surplus within four years. He will “stop the gravy train at City Hall,” he says.

Ford’s only serious rival is George Smitherman, a long-time politician who was Ontario’s first openly gay minister and was in charge of health and energy files.

The latest polls give Ford and Smitherman around 30 percent of the vote each.

Both candidates are known for hot tempers. Ford once called an Italian-Canadian colleague “Gino boy” and another councilor a “waste of skin,” while Smitherman won the nickname “Furious George” as the attack dog of Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.

Ford has a drunk driving conviction in the United States and was charged with marijuana possession and domestic assault, although the cases were both dismissed or dropped.

Smitherman admitted to being addicted to “party drugs” before his career in politics, but the biggest thorn in his side has been his role as the former health minister in a C$1 billion scandal over electronic health records.

Ford had as much as 46 percent voter support last month, and his popularity sucked other candidates to the right -- Smitherman’s fiscal plan, including a promise to freeze property taxes for a year and still balance the city’s budget, in some ways is more conservative than Ford‘s.

In the end supporters for a distant third place candidate, Toronto’s current deputy mayor, could decide the outcome if they vote tactically for Smitherman to block Ford.

“People I think have given second thoughts to the personal character, behavior, record of Mr Ford and have had second thoughts a bout whether it’s the kind of personality they want in the mayor’s chair,” said Siemiatycki.

Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Janet Guttsman

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