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Toronto Chow hits suburbs, Ford joins parade to press mayoral messages

Olivia Chow greets supporters at a rally in Toronto on Sunday, March 16.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

While Mayor Rob Ford donned an oversized green bow tie for the St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Toronto, Olivia Chow was on his home turf in the suburbs, promising to take the "politics" out of transit planning.

Ms. Chow, the newest contender in the Toronto mayoral race, held her first campaign rally on Sunday in a hotel ballroom in North York, where she accused Mr. Ford of turning City Hall into a "circus" and pledged to end years of inaction on promised new transit for Scarborough.

"There's one thing that I think most people in our city can agree on, from east to west and north to south," Ms. Chow told more than 700 supporters. "It's time to pack up the tent on the circus at City Hall."

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Ms. Chow, who officially entered the race for mayor this past Thursday after resigning as an NDP MP, is the first serious left-wing candidate to challenge Mr. Ford.

On Sunday, she ratcheted up her criticisms against what she portrayed as his divisive leadership style, saying she would build a team that would include members from every political perspective.

"We need a mayor who respects every person, every part of our city," she said.

Mr. Ford sailed to victory in the 2010 mayoral race with strong support from the suburban coalition known as Ford Nation.

Ms. Chow's political base, by contrast, is mainly downtown and in the inner city, where she represented the riding of Trinity-Spadina.

For his part, Mr. Ford was booed and cheered at the St. Patrick's Day parade.

Crowds who stood indifferent to the beauty queens, musicians and screaming fire engines got excited whenever he drew near.

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Wearing an oversized green bow tie for the occasion, Mr. Ford and his small entourage chucked green beaded necklaces into the crowd while glad-handing specially printed stickers that said "Happy St. Patrick's Day: Mayor Rob Ford."

Known for his public battles over the past year with alleged drug and alcohol use, camera-phone videos and an ongoing police investigation, the mayor was also a polarizing figure on the parade's sideline.

Parents with young children were overheard arguing whether they should rush to his side for a photo or not.

Mr. Ford was wearing one of the green beaded necklaces when he was caught on video shouting and speaking in a garbled manner on the sidewalk outside City Hall just after 10:30 on Saturday evening.

CTV, which aired the video Sunday evening, said it was taken by a "star-struck" Mississauga teenager. CTV censored Mr. Ford's apparent profanity.

Mr. Ford told a CTV reporter on Sunday that he was at City Hall Saturday evening, returning phone calls.

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Asked whether he had been drinking, he said, "I'm here, right?," adding, "Are you serious? Were you drinking last night?"

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