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Rocco Rossi at a campaign-ending press conference on Oct. 13. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Rocco Rossi at a campaign-ending press conference on Oct. 13. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Rocco Rossi: Passionate, intelligent and classy to the end Add to ...

"My parents didn't raise a quitter," Rocco Rossi used to say as pressure grew on him to drop out of the race for mayor. But on Wednesday night, he bowed to the cold reality of the opinion polls and ended his brave, creative but ultimately quixotic run for the city's top job.

Mr. Rossi gave everything he had to his bid for mayor: passion, intelligence, curiosity. At mayoral debates, he was often the most articulate candidate on the stage. Out canvassing, he listened with equal attention and patience to the woman complaining about feral cats and (though he is the son of immigrants) the one raving about too much immigration.

He tried everything to get some traction. He started his campaign with a bang by proposing to privatize Toronto Hydro, an idea no other candidate would touch. Though he is an avid cyclist who headed the Heart and Stroke Foundation, he condemned a proposal to put a trial bike lane down University Avenue. A policy wonk through and through, he championed a technique called "rapid bridge replacement" to minimize holdups for drivers.

His financial program was by far the most sensible in the race. His call for term limits and his proposal to allow voters to recall unpopular or ineffectual councillors were intended to tap into the anger exploited by Rob Ford.

He even invited derision - and got it - by proposing to study tunnelling under downtown Toronto for a new Spadina expressway. But even the notorious Mafia-themed Bocce balls and goodfellas ads did not gain him the attention or the poll numbers he needed to be considered a real threat against George Smitherman, Mr. Ford or even Joe Pantalone.

Why, with so much going for him, didn't he get anywhere? The odds against him were always high. A backroom operator who had never run for office before, he jumped into an arena usually dominated by city councillors and other insiders. This time around, he was up against not just a deputy mayor and former deputy premier but the phenomenon of Fordism. After campaigning for nine months, taking part in dozens of debates and holding countless "availablities" and other media events, he was simply out of tricks.

The right and honourable thing to do was to call it a day. He did so, typically, with a gentlemanly touch, refusing to throw his support to any of the remaining candidates. He could easily have offered some parting shots at the others (there is no lack of ammo, after all), but he declined that opportunity as well.

Instead, condemning strategic voting, he called on voters to look for a "positive vision." It was wrong, he insisted, for any camp to herd people into voting one way or another out of fear. It was a classy end to a classy campaign.

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