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(Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)
(Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)

Miller down, out, but not finished Add to ...

Mayor David Miller made up his mind in December of 2006 not to seek a third term next year, a decision that freed him to govern as he pleased, even as his political fortunes plummeted during and after the politically bruising summer strike.

In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail at his home in High Park, Mr. Miller explained how his private plans to bow out emboldened him throughout his second term, a period in which some politically unpopular moves wound up overshadowing his accomplishments.

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"I changed my style a little bit, and was really very aggressive about acting on the mandate I've been elected to do," he said in the interview. "Because I believed then that I wouldn't be running again, I wanted to make sure that I honoured my commitments to Torontonians. What I was elected to do was really important: public housing, transit, housing, environment."

Mr. Miller's bombshell announcement radically alters the 2010 race to lead Canada's largest city.

The election was expected to be a referendum on Mr. Miller's performance. Now, it's a free-for-all that could attract former Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, Deputy Premier George Smitherman and a virtual battalion of little-known city councillors.

The mayor's decision stunned friends and foes alike, because he has always insisted publicly that he wanted to be a three-term mayor.

As recently as this month, he said he was gearing up for the 2010 race. "I'm looking forward to the election," he said Sept. 15. "I enjoy elections. I thrive in them."

In the interview, Mr. Miller said he revisited his decision several times, including after the politically damaging city workers strike sent his political standings to their lowest level since he was first elected in 2003.

Reflecting on a groundswell of negative press, and criticisms of his handling of the strike, Mr. Miller said, "what the criticism did was make me want to work harder, make me want to run." In the end, he concluded, he did not want next year's race "to be about me."

He said family concerns and a sense that he had accomplished his goals - including expanding transit, reducing crime and lifting up some of the city's poorest neighbourhoods - drove him to make the final decision 10 days ago.

But it was in December of 2006, after a conversation with long-time aide Jane Karwat, that he concluded he would not seek a third term, which would have ended in 2014 with his daughter in university and his son about to graduate from high school.

Mr. Miller conceded that the unpopular strike was "immensely frustrating," but said that it did not factor into his decision.

Others are skeptical.

Paul Godfrey, a long-time political power-broker and ally of former mayor Mel Lastman, said the "battering" Mr. Miller took in recent months eroded his support and must have factored into his decision.

"He is not a stupid man," Mr. Godfrey said. "He can read the polls that have been in the papers as far as popularity is concerned, and ... why go into a battle in the future that you have a greater chance of losing than winning?"

Mr. Miller, who turns 51 in December, rhymed off highlights of his mayoral record at the City Hall announcement: proposed construction of 120 kilometres of light-rail transit to improve service to the suburbs over the next decade; a commitment to divert 70 per cent of waste from landfill by the end of next year; a commitment to community policing and homelessness initiatives; lower business taxes, and a freeze on development charges.

In making the announcement, Mr. Miller choked up several times. When he described city investments in young people from low-income neighbourhoods, he said, "this has been particularly important to me as the only child of a single mother."

Councillor Adam Vaughan, a father of two and son of a former city councillor, said he sympathized with the mayor's struggle to balance work and family life.

"My kid lost his tooth this week, and I didn't know about it for three days," he said of his five-year-old son. "That takes a toll on you. And if you come out of David's background as a single-parent-raised child, you can't help but have those things weigh on you."

Mr. Miller rode a wave of hope for Canada's largest city in the 2003 election, wielding a symbolic broom and pledging to sweep away the inertia and dubious dealings that tainted the government's reputation.

He was re-elected in 2006, handily beating former city councillor Jane Pitfield.

Through two terms, he secured more than $10-billion in federal and provincial funds for a sweeping expansion of public transit over the next 10 years, boosted city revenues with the introduction of controversial new taxes (only approved after a bitter fight at council in 2007) and pushed ahead with long-stalled waterfront renewal and aggressive moves on a "green" environmental agenda.

But the 39-day strike dealt a grave blow to the labour-friendly mayor. Many Torontonians supported his attempt to wrest a generous sick-leave plan from city unions, and were disappointed when he came out of the struggle with only a partial win, ending the old sick-leave plan for new hires but letting existing workers keep it if they wished.

A recent Ipsos-Reid poll found that only 21 per cent of Torontonians thought Mr. Miller should be re-elected.

Follow on Twitter: @jillsmahoney

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