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Different gaits out of the gate in mayoralty race

George Smitherman laces up his skates in front of City Hall after registering to be a candidate in the Toronto mayoral race on Jan. 8.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

One is lying low. Another has rolled out his signature policy proposals. A third has whet the media's appetite with the online equivalent of a striptease, flashing his intentions on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, while refusing to officially confirm he'll run for mayor until Monday.

The opening strategies of George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi and Adam Giambrone, three of the top candidates for mayor, have been radically different. Why the divergent approaches out of the gate? It's all about their places in the early horse race, and attracting a core constituency on which to build their campaigns, insiders and observers say.

Mr. Giambrone, the 32-year-old TTC chair, is working diligently to appeal to young voters on the left.

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"His approach has been very interesting of late," said Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson University. "We're seeing an emphasis on an appeal to youth through social networking that we've never seen in urban politics before."

Mr. Giambrone will kick off his campaign tonight with a party to "Celebrate Toronto" at Revival, a bash he's been promoting since last weekend when he e-mailed an invitation to supporters. The avid Twitterer and Facebook user followed that with a now-infamous YouTube video in which he performed push-ups, jumping jacks and a bad Travis Bickle impression before declaring: "I'm Adam Giambrone and I'm ready." The video wasn't distributed in an official fashion; he posted it to YouTube and let the word spread virally. By last night it had been viewed more than 32,000 times. Then finally, on Friday, Mr. Giambrone stopped playing coy and announced he wanted to be mayor - on Facebook.

"The very long courting period is probably tiresome for a journalist," said Bernie Morton, a Conservative political consultant who is about to launch the Canadian edition of Campaigns & Elections' Politics magazine. "But as a campaign strategy it's been very effective."

Mr. Giambrone needs a novel approach considering the millstone dangling from his neck - the TTC. The transit agency is enduring a rough period thanks to a fare increase, token hoarding and a photo of a dozing TTC collector, all of which forced Mr. Giambrone to apologize for the shoddy service last week. He'll need clever strategizing from John Laschinger, the architect of David Miller's victories in 2003 and 2006, to keep the TTC's troubles from defining him.

The Davenport councillor also faces the challenge of fighting deputy mayor Joe Pantalone to be the standard-bearer for the left.

Mr. Giambrone's opponents would probably prefer to keep the TTC's troubles on the front-burner. Rocco Rossi has already proposed kicking politicians off the TTC's board. The proposal was one of about half a dozen concrete ideas he unveiled at his coming-out speech to the Empire Club. A former president of the federal Liberal Party, head of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and businessman, Mr. Rossi has never held elected office. He's a virtual unknown whose early strategy is all about changing that.

"Rocco's No. 1 concern is getting the word out," said John Capobianco, the co-chair of Mr. Rossi's campaign. He plans to do that by pitching ideas such as banishing new bike lanes from arterial roads, establishing a GTA-wide economic development agency and halting light-rail lines that have yet to break ground while he reviews the finances. "All the other candidates who are in the race or should be in have largely shied away from discussing ideas," he added, in a not-so-subtle dig at former deputy premier George Smitherman.

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Mr. Smitherman is running a classic frontrunner's campaign. He's staying largely out of the media's eye. When he does speak out, as he did in a speech to the Board of Trade, he focuses on his experience and the tone of the leadership he'd bring, not specifics.

"He still has the luxury of not laying out positions," Prof. Siemiatycki said. "My hunch is we'll see George Smitherman working very assiduously behind the scenes right now."

Indeed, that's exactly what he's doing, said Stefan Baranski, Mr. Smitherman's spokesman. The candidate is keeping a whirlwind schedule, holding up to a dozen meetings a day, many with neighbourhood groups outside of his traditional downtown stronghold. "He's taking the time to develop long-term solutions," Mr. Baranski said.

"We're going to let George be George," he added.

That means Mr. Smitherman won't stay quiet for much longer.

"George is a smart candidate and he has a smart team," Mr. Morton said. "They won't be lying in the weeds for much longer."

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  • Target base: Young and left-leaning.
  • Early strategy: Rely heavily on social networking and apologize profusely for customer-service lapses at the TTC.
  • Early splash: His 'I'm ready' YouTube video makes him the target of mockery, but at least people are talking about his suit-clad push-ups instead of the TTC's service shortcomings.


  • Target base: Right-of-centre, disenchanted with the Miller regime.
  • Early strategy: Unveil stance on issues dear to the right's heart, including banishing new bike lanes from arterial roads, privatizing more city services and reviewing light-rail lines that have yet to break ground.
  • Early splash: His Empire Club speech establishes him as a credible candidate and includes a stand-up quality routine on the 5-cent plastic bag charge.


  • Target base: Broad. He's pulling supporters from the left and right and seems intent on pitching a big tent, even early in the campaign.
  • Early strategy: Gather a smart team, meet behind the scenes, hold off on making policy pronouncements that could alienate potential supporters.
  • Early splash: Entering the race. The former deputy premier's decision to resign from cabinet to run for Mayor of Toronto caused a big splash all on its own.

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