As Alejandra Bravo made a third round knocking on doors in the Fairbank neighbourhood since declaring her candidacy in February, she tried to collect enough support to keep her third run for council in Ward 17 from ending in disappointment once again.
A mix of Ms. Bravo's blue campaign signs and incumbent Cesar Palacio's bright yellow ones lined Dynevor Road, near Dufferin Street and Eglinton Avenue West. Several Ward 17, Davenport, residents that she encountered on her canvass either told her they would vote for Ms. Bravo, a former manager at Maytree charitable foundation, or said they were undecided.
"Things have changed," Ms. Bravo said, recalling much greater support for former Rob Ford ally Mr. Palacio in 2006.
After losing to Mr. Palacio by narrowing margins of 791 in 2003 and 281 in 2006, Ms. Bravo said she is optimistic this year she'll close the gap and unseat him. She sat out on the 2010 election because she said she was enjoying her position at Maytree.
The already heated race took a bitter turn last month when Mr. Palacio served Ms. Bravo a libel notice for allegedly distributing defamatory flyers claiming he voted in favour of cuts to the Toronto Public Library's budget. Ms. Bravo's lawyers responded that it was not her campaign literature, which she said is clearly branded.
"I have always taken the high road and I have turned the other cheek every time that something has been said about me, but there are some things that are so unfair," Mr. Palacio said at a candidates' debate at Oakwood Collegiate Institute Thursday night. "These kinds of negative campaigns and personal attacks are not helpful to anyone."
Asked afterwards whether suing one's rival could be perceived as negative campaigning, Mr. Palacio said, "I won't be speaking to something that's going to be before the courts.
"We will proceed with further action after the election," said Mr. Palacio, who promises fiscal responsibility, protecting community services and promoting arts and culture if he's re-elected. "The level of support that I have is more solid than ever before so I feel very comfortable that we are going to win with a big majority this time."
Mr. Palacio answered a few questions after the debate but did not respond to calls made to his campaign office earlier this week.
Ms. Bravo maintained her team did nothing wrong and had no knowledge of the flyers.
"It's an attempt to run away from his record and to intimidate us into silence on a really important issue in this community," she said. "I will share the fact that he did make cuts to libraries."
As a member of the Toronto Public Library board in 2011, Mr. Palacio voted against a compromised budget that would have kept the Metro Hall branch from shutting down, according to the City of Toronto's meeting agendas and minutes. A month later, Mr. Palacio voted against a motion at city council to reallocate $3-million to save the library and prevent cuts to TTC bus routes. The motion was defeated.
Mr. Palacio became a vocal opponent of cuts to library services later in 2011. Ms. Bravo also challenged Mr. Palacio's support for increasing the residential property tax to fund the Scarborough subway that Davenport residents won't necessarily benefit from.
"We're going to pay for 30 years for something that makes no sense and that is going to impact, absolutely, our bus service here in Ward 17. I would definitely kill the Scarborough subway line," she said.
Instead, she said she would address inadequate bus service and bunched St. Clair streetcars, as transit is among the top issues concerning Ward 17 residents.
More than half of those residents live in houses and nearly 10 per cent don't speak English or French. Other key issues in the ward include jobs, access to green space and vacant retail areas.
"We want to do something proactive to bring the right kind of retail into the area and we want to work with whoever the councillor may be after Oct. 27," said Tony Bolla, president of the Regal Heights Village Business Improvement Area. "I can't fault [Mr. Palacio]. Could he be doing a better job? I imagine we all can be better at what we do."
Evan Castel, co-chair of the Davenport Neighbourhood Association, said while he can't pick favourites, he hopes the winning candidate will push for the city to keep better track of the fuel cargos being transported along railway tracks on the south end of the ward, along Dupont Street.
"We're up against one of the busiest rail corridors in the city," he said. "We all understand that commerce has to happen and everyone uses fossil fuels but there's too little regulation."
Mr. Castel said there was also a competition last summer to devise plans to transform the rail lands into parks and he'd like to see Ward 17's councillor put some of those ideas into effect.
Ms. Bravo said she will devise a plan to bring more parks to the ward. Her platform also calls for more daycare spaces and a "community benefits plan," to address youth unemployment, which would require developers to prioritize hiring locally.
Emerging as an alternative to Ms. Bravo and Mr. Palacio's years of rivalry is rookie candidate Saeed Selvam, co-founder of Spark Initiative , a non-profit for vulnerable areas of the city.
"One thing I am concerned with is when people tell me or insinuate that I should back down," said Mr. Selvam, who is campaigning to bring better transit to Davenport, improve business and parking along St. Clair Avenue and a national strategy for affordable housing. "For someone to simply say that you should step down because you'll split the vote, despite me having declared my candidacy before the other candidate, I find that to be extremely troubling."
He said his strategy is not just to focus on the 45 per cent of Ward 17 voters who turned out in last election, but to gain support in the rest of the ward as well.