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Politics not as usual in Ward 27 Add to ...

Kristyn Wong-Tam has gone from homeless at 16 to a candidate for city hall, and she's got a good shot at taking on one of the city's most important wards - the central Toronto seat vacated by Kyle Rae.

Ms. Wong-Tam arrived in Toronto from Hong Kong as a child. Her family had been living with seven people in a bachelor suite in Hong Kong when her dad was able to immigrate to Canada as a hotel chef.

At 16, she came out of the closet to her parents. It didn't go over well.

"I found myself homeless," she said. "My father was just angry. Harsh words were said."

The rupture was deeply painful on both sides. Though still in high school, Ms. Wong-Tam eventually moved into a rooming house and took two jobs to support herself, selling shoes at Foot Locker and fast food in a mall food court.

She has never worked fewer than two jobs since.

Ms. Wong-Tam, 38, is now a successful real-estate broker and the owner of Xexe Gallery. She's best known as a community organizer who helped galvanize the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area and has deep roots in the area. An adviser on Mayor David Miller's economic competitiveness committee, she was part of the coalition that lobbied for a federal apology for the Chinese head tax, and has earned a reputation as someone who gets things done quietly, without grandstanding.

Sitting in a Church Street coffee shop that she once owned, Ms. Wong-Tam's style is Olympic-chic, with a stylish scarf tied round her neck and a sporty zip-up sweater.

Her campaign team is a coalition that runs the gamut from Conservative to New Democrat, with some Liberals and Greens in between, she explains. Her views are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, a combination that she thinks meshes well with the mix of rich and poor neighbourhoods she hopes to represent.

She describes it as a wide-open race, even if mayoral candidate George Smitherman has thrown his considerable weight behind her chief opponent Ken Chan. She's confident voters will choose someone who has worked in the area for years rather than a candidate "flying in from London," she said.

"Nothing has ever been given to me in my life," she said. "This will be a fight, but a civil one."

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