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Reading the Labour Council tea leaves Add to ...

Joe Pantalone scored a big -- though thoroughly unsurprising -- win earlier this month when the Toronto and York Region Labour Council voted to endorse him for mayor. The power of the Labour Council, with its 150,000 Toronto members, shouldn't be underestimated just because the public is still smarting from last summer's strike.

That's why it's so interesting to look at the Labour Council's picks in ward races, where the birkenstocks-on-the-ground power of Toronto's organized left can win close contests.

The umbrella union group has endorsed 18 council candidates, 12 of whom are lefty incumbents in seats safer than a not-your-average-Joe condom. (One exception: Ward 8, where NDP stalwart Anthony Perruzza faces Peter Li Preti, the long-time councillor he narrowly defeated in 2006.) The Labour Council's six other choices reveal where the union/NDP machine plans to shift into overdrive come fall.

In two cases, the Labour Council is trying to take down incumbents. They've endorsed Mohamed Dhanani in Ward 26 Don Valley West, currently held by former PC MPP John Parker. Mr. Parker narrowly defeated Mr. Dhanani in 2006 in a crowded field vying for Jane Pitfield's old seat. This time, most of those ex-candidates have coalesced around Mr. Dhanani. A win here would be significant because it would flip a seat from right to (sort-of) left.

The other incumbent in their crosshairs is Ward 42's Raymond Cho, a veteran councillor and member of the mushy middle who tends to vote with the Millerites. Labour is backing Neethan Shan, currently a school board trustee in York Region.

Of the open wards, Labour has decided to focus on four: Ward 18 (Adam Giambrone), Ward 27 (Kyle Rae), Ward 2 (Rob Ford) and Ward 29 (Case Ootes). Wins in the latter two would put two more seats in the left's column. They've endorsed Cadigia Ali in Ford's ward and Mary Fragedakis in Ootes's ward, where the left will face a tough battle against Jane Pitfield. They've picked Kevin Beaulieu, Giambrone's executive assistant, in Ward 18 and Kristyn Wong-Tam in the hyper-competitive race for Ward 27.

One curious omission: No endorsement in Ward 19, where Mike Layton is running for Pantalone's old seat? Perhaps the Labour Council is torn between Jack's son and Karen Sun?

The upshot of all of this? There's a good chance the left will not only keep its grip on council after Oct. 25, but tighten it.

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