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Call it a triumphant loss -- if there can be such a thing.

At 9:05 p.m. yesterday, when defeated Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory pushed his way through the shoulder-to-shoulder mob at the refurbished Capitol Theatre on Yonge Street, preceded by a phalanx of security guards, cheered on by clapping, hooting campaign workers, he looked like a winner.

He delivered a gracious, heartfelt concession speech that heaped praise on his opponents, particularly mayor-elect David Miller and former mayor Barbara Hall. "He's [Mr. Miller]a man of integrity who ran a tough but fair campaign," Mr. Tory said. "I encourage you to give him your full support, because he is to be our new mayor."

Only one person booed.

After the speech, Mr. Tory told reporters he'd be happy to work as a volunteer in a Miller administration "if he thinks I can be of help."

Asked afterward what factors contributed to his narrow loss, Mr. Tory said the people of Toronto were "looking for change." He added that he believed both he and Mr. Miller were perceived as candidates of change. He also pointedly played down the differences between the two. "We probably agree on 90 per cent of our policies."

In the audience, talk quickly turned to what Mr. Tory might do next. Several of his campaign workers suggested in interviews that he would make a strong candidate for the leadership of Ontario's provincial Conservatives. Mr. Tory played down such speculation, insisting he has no plans beyond "finding a job" and carrying on with his extensive charity work.

However, he didn't close the door entirely to a future run at political office. "I'll have to reflect. I had an enjoyable period in business, and in law."

Mr. Tory took pains to point out that, when he entered the race last February, few had high hopes of a victory. Early polls showed him with a mere 4 per cent popular support. Nine months later, he'd come within about five percentage points of winning. Mr. Tory won 38.45 per cent of the vote; Ms. Hall, 9.16 per cent; Mr. Miller, 43.65 per cent. "We can all leave here tonight with our heads held high," Mr. Tory shouted, to loud cheers.

Mr. Tory wore a trademark navy suit, red tie, white shirt and poppy. He was flanked by his wife, Barbara Hackett, friends and family.

He repeatedly expressed gratitude for the opportunity to run, calling it a privilege.

"I am very fortunate and very grateful.

"After a few days of rest, John Tory, private citizen, will be back at the task of trying to shape a great city."

Mr. Tory was originally deemed to be the longest of long shots. Despite a lengthy political track record in the back rooms -- including as principal secretary to former Conservative premier Bill Davis from 1981 to 1985 -- he had had little name recognition. Indeed, in the early going, former Liberal MP and brat-packer John Nunziata was considered the likelier of the two to become standard-bearer for conservative-minded Torontonians.

By mid-campaign, however, Mr. Tory had established himself as a solidly centrist candidate. He homed in again and again on his mantra of sound management, combined with compassion.

In an Oct. 27 speech to the Canadian Club, he portrayed himself as both rigorously conservative and acutely sensitive to the needs and concerns of Toronto's less fortunate.

However, the candidate faced significant obstacles that were to do him in again and again throughout the campaign. He was repeatedly reminded by the media of his long association with outgoing mayor Mel Lastman, as a key member of the so-called kitchen cabinet that worked to twice elect Mr. Lastman, in 1997 and 2000.

Mr. Tory showed himself to be a charming, informed and effective speaker. He was hampered, however, by his tendency to speak in superfast bursts.

It's unclear the extent to which he may have been hurt by Mr. Nunziata's explosive claim, late in the campaign, that a senior member of an opposing campaign had offered him $150,000 and the deputy mayor's job in exchange for his withdrawal from the race. A police investigation later found Mr. Nunziata's claim to be baseless.