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Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki scrums with the media outside Mayor Rob Ford's office at City Hall on Feb. 14, 2014. (CHRIS YOUNG FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki scrums with the media outside Mayor Rob Ford's office at City Hall on Feb. 14, 2014. (CHRIS YOUNG FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Soknacki campaign prepares to drop the gloves in Toronto mayoral battle Add to ...

In the early days of campaigning, mayoral candidate David Soknacki’s approach couldn’t be more different from his chief opponent’s. He hasn’t gone near Mayor Rob Ford’s world-famous personal woes and has chosen complex policy statements instead of flashy, populist catchphrases. But soon, the gloves will be coming off.

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“[Rob] Ford’s antics are actually helping us to build David’s profile, but our supporters don’t simply want us to grin and bear it,” said Brian Kelcey, Mr. Soknacki’s campaign manager in an e-mail Sunday afternoon. “We do have plans to take our campaign to Ford’s doorstep in at least a few ways over the next two weeks.”

While several other high-profile Torontonians such as Karen Stintz, Olivia Chow and John Tory are expected to enter the race for mayor, Mr. Soknacki is so far the only credible candidate to have registered to run against Mr. Ford. He has been upstaged by Mr. Ford’s team at several key moments in his campaign so far – enough times to feed a theory that these distractions have been deliberate.

“If Mr. Ford and his team wish to continue to operate by distracting residents, they’re of course free to do so but we’re going to continue to raise the issues and discuss them,” he said in an interview.

In early January, when the Soknacki 2014 campaign was launched, the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, announced he was “leaning” toward running for a seat in the next provincial election. Later that month, after Mr. Soknacki made plans to give a speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Mr. Ford announced he’d booked a speech at the Economic Club of Canada at the same time. In the end, most eyes were trained on Mr. Ford’s event – in part because he was reportedly stuck in an elevator and arrived nearly an hour late.

The latest distraction came Friday afternoon, when Mr. Soknacki made a policy announcement about plans to index the land transfer tax and rebates to inflation at the same time the Ford camp tweeted that the mayor and his brother were meeting with magician David Blaine at City Hall.

Despite urging from reporters, Mr. Soknacki’s team chose to make the announcement at Richmond and Simcoe streets, on a Friday before a long weekend. When only three members of the media showed up, he went to City Hall, where journalists were already assembled, and gave the press conference again.

Doug Ford, who is serving as his brother’s campaign manager, dismissed the notion of the mayor attempting to steal Mr. Soknacki’s thunder.

“I broke out laughing because I didn’t even know he was calling a press conference – didn’t have a clue,” Doug Ford said. “We don’t schedule around David Soknacki, that’s for sure.”

But even without the perceived distractions from the Ford camp, Mr. Soknacki faces another challenge: his wonkish style. Even at his second press conference on the land transfer tax, the former budget chief had difficulty explaining his proposal and told reporters to read the backgrounder.

“There’s a problem with being too smart,” said Councillor John Filion, who has spoken in support of Mr. Soknacki. “You almost have to make things overly simple, which is what appeals to a lot of the Ford supporters.”

On Thursday, Mr. Ford described his opponent as a “complete disaster” on the radio station Z103.5. In response, Mr. Soknacki rhymed off many “disasters” in Mr. Ford’s record: his inaction on the land transfer tax (which he had promised to eliminate when campaigning in 2010), his support of a tax hike to pay for the Scarborough subway and his repeated claims of saving the city specific amounts of money “that no one can quantify.”

While Mr. Filion said Mr. Soknacki could benefit from “simplifying his message,” he recommended against the mayoral hopeful borrowing any other pages from the Ford playbook and making attacks personal.

“You don’t step into the ring with Rob Ford because he’s got a tag-team wrestling team and will give you a body slam and toss you over the ropes,” he said.

With a report from Elizabeth Church

Follow on Twitter: @DakGlobe

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