Toronto's mayoral campaign has fallen on hard times in recent months. SARS, the war in Iraq and constant chatter about an impending provincial election have all served to divert attention away from this city's important municipal vote. And that suits Barbara Hall just fine. Polls conducted in recent months invariably indicate the former mayor of pre-amalgamation T.O. has a lead of about 20 percentage points over her closest rivals. Such was the case in May and so it remains today as Councillor David Miller, ex-MP John Nunziata, recently retired cable executive John Tory and erstwhile budget chief Tom Jakobek endeavour to erode Hall's advantage before the November 10 vote.
But, the truth be told, the race for the mayor's chair has yet to begin in earnest. Hall continues to coast on the name recognition she built up during her years as a councillor and single-term chief magistrate. Miller, Nunziata and Tory all claim their campaigns are gaining momentum. But regardless of which of the second-tier candidates' survey data you may be privy to, the fact is each of them seems to have the support of 16 to 20 per cent of decided voters. Given the margin of error built into such barometers of public opinion, Miller, Nunziata and Tory are locked in a virtual dead heat. Jakobek trails some distance behind.
"The election is Barbara Hall's to lose right now," offers Joe Mihevc, the councillor for Ward 21 (St. Paul's). "With everything else that's been going on, combined with summer holidays, it hasn't been easy for the others to raise their profiles." Meanwhile, Hall's support for a bridge to the Island Airport, workfare and a moratorium on homeless shelter beds has turned off more than a few progressives.
It will become even more difficult for someone to break from the pack if the mayoral race is assigned to publicity limbo for a critical four-week period this fall while provincial pols battle for supremacy at Queen's Park. "In the final analysis, the citizens of Toronto may be left with a month to focus on who may be the best mayor for this city," Mihevc says.
Unlike Councillor Olivia Chow - who last week endorsed Miller for mayor on the strength of his stand against construction of a bridge to an expanded Island Airport - Mihevc is still weighing his options. "I'm going to be announcing after Labour Day," he advises. For Mihevic it comes down a choice between Hall and Miller. The former has Councillors Maria Augimeri, Pam McConnell and Kyle Rae on side so far. The latter can look to Sandra Bussin, Anne Johnston, Irene Jones, Howard Moscoe, Joe Pantalone and Chow.
"It really pains me that we have two progressive candidates who both have experience and a lot of skills,' says Mihevic. "I know couples where one's going one way and one's going the other.'
Mihevc is not alone in waiting until Labour Day. Right now, the race is for second place going into the final stage of the campaign. But if Premier Ernie Eves calls a provincial election for October, a reliable sign of who's got the ability to make a race of it to the end may not by clear by Labour Day.
Nunziata appears to have an edge over Tory for support from the right of political centre, and it will be up to Miller to show that he can challenge Hall without splitting the supposedly progressive vote so badly that Nunziata gets the upper hand.
Meanwhile, Miller could be in the best position to exploit Hall's progressive lapses. His campaign team is now being managed by John Laschinger, a red Tory political strategist who - like Chow - played a key role in Hall's 1997 mayoral bid. But time is becoming a critical factor. A campaign that seemed like it would go on forever when it began back in January may come down to the last three weeks.