Toronto deputy mayor Joe Pantalone is planning to run for mayor.
Unfazed by the big-name "outsiders" vying to replace David Miller, Mr. Pantalone told The Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview that he is "90 per cent-plus" sure he will join the 2010 race in January.
Mr. Pantalone, who would be the most senior left-of-centre candidate to signal his intentions so far, contended his 30-year career in local politics would give him an edge over former deputy premier George Smitherman and former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory, neither of whom have held municipal office.
"I am receiving an amazing amount of support from people who are of the opinion that experience is what is needed in hard times," said Mr. Pantalone, who has represented Little Italy at City Hall since December, 1980.
Without naming Mr. Smitherman or Mr. Tory, Mr. Pantalone said "people are looking around at the outsiders and think their experience does not match mine."
Mr. Smitherman resigned from cabinet earlier this month and announced he plans to run for mayor; Mr. Tory is still mulling his options but is expected to join the race next year.
It's too early to say whether being a city hall insider will help or hurt in next fall's wide-open contest, said Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson University.
"The genius of the campaign will lie in who can define the mood of Toronto," he said.
The biggest challenge for Toronto's next mayor will be tackling the city's chronic budget shortfall.
To balance next year's operating budget, the city has to find $400-million to $500-million in a mix of spending cuts and extra revenue.
Mr. Pantalone said his intimate knowledge of the city's finances makes him the best person to conduct fiscal surgery that is, "clinical as opposed to a sledgehammer."
Aside from his status as a political veteran, Mr. Pantalone has another advantage: His ethnic heritage, a potential boon in multicultural Toronto.
Born in Italy, Mr. Pantalone moved to Toronto as a 13-year-old. He is a divorced father of two children, 17 and 15. The deputy mayor would likely tap what Mr. Siemiatycki described as a "sophisticated and savvy" Italian community known for participating in elections.
The official kickoff to next year's municipal election is January 4, the first day candidates can file their nomination papers. Mr. Pantalone said he plans to make a "100-per-cent declaration" early in January.
Other councillors lining up to succeed Mr. Miller include Giorgio Mammoliti, who has vowed to run if he can raise the money, and TTC chairman Adam Giambrone, who has said he is seriously considering jumping into the race.
Right-leaning councillor Karen Stintz has confirmed she will not run and budget chief Shelley Carroll is undecided.