Former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray is the latest public figure to talk up a possible run for the Toronto's top job, as allies of Mayor David Miller fret over who will fill his shoes on the centre left when he leaves office next year.
"I am probably one of the few people who would actually know what I would be getting myself into," said Mr. Murray, who was mayor of Winnipeg for six years until 2004. Since then, he has been a Toronto resident and is president of the Canadian Urban Institute.
After Mr. Miller's surprise announcement last Friday that he would not seek a third term, Mr. Murray said Monday, "I got 57 e-mails within 10 minutes from people saying, 'We have to find a candidate.' "
With a legion of right-leaning councillors and former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory positioning themselves as the anti-David Miller candidate for November, 2010, the current mayor's allies suddenly find themselves looking for a replacement to carry on his progressive policies.
"There's a vacuum," said deputy mayor Joe Pantalone (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), who says he, too, is mulling a possible run for mayor. "There is a scramble to see if there are candidates who can fill the job."
Mr. Miller said Toronto has a progressive electorate with little trust for right-wing candidates who promise to freeze taxes and preserve services.
"Look who we elect," he said of politicians sent to Queen's Park and Ottawa. "It's all New Democrats and Liberals, all of them. … I believe Toronto will elect somebody like that."
He refused to comment on rumoured contenders or any role he might play in helping a like-minded candidate.
"I do know, though, whoever runs has to answer the simple question: Why are you running for mayor?" he said. "What is it you're going to champion?"
Mr. Murray, the first openly gay mayor of a major city in North America, talks at machine-gun speed about the vital role of cities in the economy.
A fiscal conservative with an activist view of social policy, Mr. Murray says he will decide his future in the next few weeks.
But some of those who count themselves among his friends are skeptical of his candidacy.
"Glen chats himself up," said Councillor Kyle Rae (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale). "He has been a strong urban advocate, but when you drill down, Glen can't get past what he did in Winnipeg and Winnipeg is not Toronto."
Ontario Deputy Premier and Minister of Infrastructure George Smitherman, a former top aide to pre-amalgamation Toronto mayor Barbara Hall, is one of two top contenders - Mr. Tory being the other - looking at a possible run.
The sudden emergence of mayoral aspirants is "a bit like sumo wrestling," said Toronto economist Hugh Mackenzie, a long-time Miller supporter. "People bump each other around in the hopes it becomes obvious who should be the candidate."
Former councillor and Toronto MP Olivia Chow won't rule out a mayoral run, saying only that it's "too early" to talk of replacing Mr. Miller.
But she said there are many city projects, such as affordable housing and transit expansion in the suburbs, "that could go astray if we don't have a steady, visionary leader who will actually get their hands dirty and have progressive values."
CUPE Local 416 president Mark Ferguson, who clashed with the mayor during the summer municipal workers strike, said Mr. Miller's decision not seek a third term is a loss for Toronto.
"There's a concern about a potential vacuum," said Mr. Ferguson, who wants a mayoral candidate who "sees the folly in privatization."
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