Councillor Michael Thompson is clearly a man with a mission.
And he's not what you'd describe as a patient person. When Mayor David Miller joined police Chief Bill Blair this week in announcing steps the city is taking to stop the spread of guns that have killed 28 people so far this year, Thompson was unimpressed.
"It doesn't give me hope that it's going to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner," the Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre) councillor says of the initiative that includes the creation of a guns-and-gangs task force and the re-deployment of officers to neighbourhoods terrorized by deadly gunplay.
Thompson argues that Miller's negotiations with the province for promised money to hire more cops and with Ottawa to stop weapons being smuggled into Canada from the U.S. "validates what I've been saying."
And he says he plans to keep right on saying it. Never mind the warnings Thompson claims to have received concerning his personal safety because he's speaking out against the criminal element.
"If people think I'm going to sit back and be one of the folks who are just going to say, 'Okay, whatever the mayor needs to do, let's just support him wholeheartedly without questioning or actually calling him to task' - well, I'm not one of those."
But pols who've had their eye on Thompson insist he's got more in mind than just making the chief magistrate take a little heat for his less-than-speedy response to the city's latest string of gangland shootings.
Many observers say his ultimate goal is to become Toronto's first black mayor. For a right-wing on council looking for a palatable conservative option, Thompson presents an intriguing possibility.
"Many politicians have built careers around public fears, and I think that's what's happening here," says Brian Ashton, the councillor for Ward 36 (Scarborough Southwest).
It wasn't long after Thompson was elected to council in 2003 that he began an aggressive campaign to portray social-minded Miller as being soft on crime.
"I think he's being exploitive and narrow in his approach," Ashton says. But he also concedes that Thompson has played his cards "extremely well. He hasn't reconciled issues about a city with financial difficulties hiring thousands more police officers. But sometimes when you're running against something, it's easier to ignore the links between various ideas."
Thompson denies giving "any thought at all" to becoming chief magistrate. "I'm trying to be the best city councillor I can be," he says. "I'm trying to provide some support to the mayor."
But it's doubtful anyone would characterize the letter Thompson sent to Miller when the recent spate of shootings began on July 25 as supportive.
"Whatever steps have been taken on your watch either do not work or are too timid to make a dent in the Dodge City atmosphere growing on our streets," the councillor charged. "It is one thing to speak out against gun crime and an entirely different thing to implement strong measures to combat it."
Thompson then headed into a television studio to repeat his words of mayoral "support" for the multitude of home viewers and to lament the fact that Miller didn't reply to his communiqué and its seven recommendations. Most of those proposals - making gun crime a priority, lobbying Ottawa for tougher sentencing and better border controls - sound very much like the plan the mayor's office was already moving on with little fanfare.
"Our city's hard-won reputation for safety is under attack," raged Thompson, whom Miller appointed to the community safety panel headed by Chief Justice Roy McMurtry last year."The people of Toronto are concerned [that the city] needs leadership on this issue now."
Few people familiar with Thompson are surprised by musings that he has mayoral aspirations.
"It certainly doesn't come as a surprise to hear his name mentioned," says one former colleague. "He started plotting the path of his political career the day he started working for [former city councillor and current Liberal MPP Lorenzo] Berardinetti. He was schmoozing from the word go."
Indeed, sources say Thompson's self-promotional antics back then created considerable tension in Berardinetti's office and played a role in the former councillor giving his personal endorsement to one of Thompson's opponents in the last municipal election.
"Michael is the definition of ambition," says someone familiar with the scene. "No one who has watched him operate expects him to be satisfied with a councillor's role for very long. He's definitely got his sights set on bigger things."
Ashton says the mayor left himself open to attack by taking too long to reassure the public that his office was doing everything in its power to combat the firearms crisis.
"If Miller's not there, he creates a vacuum," he says. And right now Thompson's taking every opportunity to fill it.