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Mississauga City Hall.

Malton is often seen as Mississauga's forgotten quarter.

A diverse but disadvantaged exclave situated north of Pearson International Airport, the neighbourhood is physically cut off from the rest of the city by a sea of industrial parks. A lack of infrastructure and employment plague the community, while a handful of high-profile homicides over the years have hurt its reputation.

Ending this alienation was topic of most of the pitches of candidates vying to represent Ward 5, of which Malton is a part, on Mississauga's city council at a debate at the Malton Community Centre Monday night.

The by-election was called after the former councillor, Eve Adams, won a seat in the House of Commons in May. A record 27 candidates have registered for the race; 21 attended the debate.

"There are 80 gangs in the area," said candidate Kulvinder Bobbie Daid , a local businesswoman, before outlining a plan to curb crime, in part through education. "I'm not an advocate of just giving a child a football and hoping the problem goes away. I'd like to start an apprenticeship program for youth."

Bonnie Crombie, a former Liberal MP, said her first priority if elected to council would be forming an economic task force to find ways to create jobs in the area.

She also pledged to get the money to fix a railway crossing that, at the moment, brings traffic on a major arterial road to a screeching halt whenever a GO train passes.

"As a former member of parliament, I know how to access federal infrastructure dollars," she said.

Carolyn Parrish, meanwhile, traded on her reputation as a firebrand – before she lost her seat on city council last year, she was best known for challenging Mayor Hazel McCallion's role in a business deal involving her son – and cast herself as an advocate for the underdog who got seniors' free dental.

"We've been sitting here for the last hour saying how Malton has been left behind. Do you really want a councillor who sits there and makes nice and says 'okay, just keep shafting Malton?'" she asked rhetorically. "What you need up here is a fighter, someone who is going to have lively debate."

Other candidates took aim at the fact that many of their rivals, Ms. Parrish and Ms. Crombie included, don't live in the ward. Ms. Adams' husband, Peter Adams, played up his involvement in the community and suggested he had never seen many of his fellow candidates' working in the ward. He also invoked his wife's popularity.

"The name Adams stands for real results that you can touch," he said, referencing improvements to parks, emergency services and a new transit hub made during Ms. Adams' time on council.

But while local issues dominated the discussion, there were a few questions on the pre-eminent topic of discussion in Mississauga politics over the last year: support for the city's 90-year-old mayor.

Ms. McCallion herself attended the debate, along with several city councillors, and appeared to be listening with rapt attention.

While Ms. Parrish proclaimed her respect for the mayor, describing her as "my hero, as a woman in politics," her clashes with Ms. McCallion while on council prompted the mayor to successfully campaign against her last year.

Ms. Crombie, by contrast, is close with Ms. McCallion: the pair even drove off together after the debate, in the same car, with Ms. McCallion behind the wheel.

But the mayor insisted earlier that she was not backing any candidate.

"You've got to thank all of them for putting their names forward," she said.

Ward 5 voters head to the polls Sept. 19.