She's the can't-miss candidate, according to all the polls. Chow's been ahead in every one since June. Her support is broad-based. She outclasses Ford in both his hotbeds in Scarborough and Etobicoke. Forum pollster Lorne Bozinoff has described her numbers as "almost iconic." The glow is on Chow.
Certainly, there are NDP beachheads in the burbs from which an offensive can be launched. But polls are only a snapshot in time. They can change, and no one knows that better than Chow, who remains super-coy about her intentions - as well she should. There's much for her to think about. Unlike those on council contemplating making a run for Ford's job, the Trinity-Spadina MP would have to give up her seat.
The knock against Chow is that she's not a candidate the centre can support, that she's too easy to label the second coming of David Miller. Hence Doug Ford's "She's no Jack" crack, a reference to her late husband, NDP leader Jack Layton, whose appeal crossed party lines. But not all buy the theory that Chow can't represent common ground. At least one very prominent Liberal political fixer has offered his services to her campaign.
Odds: 3-1 Chow's time in Ottawa has been well spent building a Toronto-centric resumé. Her efforts around a National Transit Strategy and money for crumbling infrastructure have won cross-party support. Another sure sign she scares the crap out of the right: Ford enthusiast Sue-Ann Levy has resorted to dog jokes to denigrate Chow.
Underneath the heir-apparent confidence, there's an uneasy sense that Chow's being drafted because no lefty on council can take Ford on and win. Can she live up to Jack's legacy? One political insider describes a scene at a recent party where Chow was being exhorted to "save our city."
He's been eyeing a mayoral run for the better part of the last year and is reportedly still in. Vaughan's "continuing to have good conversations with people," he says, but last week's surprise conflict of interest verdict tossing Ford from office has thrown a wrench in his timing.
He favours a by-election to replace Ford but is also taking the long view, willing to accept a council voting to appoint a replacement mayor if Ford loses his appeal. His decision on that will depend on how much time is left in the current term. Vaughan won't run if Chow does, and that reticence now seems to extend to Shelley Carroll and Karen Stintz, too. If either of them runs, Vaughan won't. Nevertheless, Ford's peeps seem to think he'll join the race, judging by the freak-out the mayor had on Vaughan at council last week. It was reminiscent of Mel Lastman's "You'll never be mayor" tirade against David Miller. And we all know what happened there.
Odds: 10-1 Vaughan is being honest with himself. If it's not in the cards, so be it. He's fine with that. A run in 2014 may not be in play either, but he's young enough to bide his time. "Everywhere I look, I see ducks lining up," he says.
Smart. Conscientious. Tough. Carroll is off and running, saying she's jumping in no matter what. That's a shift from 2010, when the then-chair of the Budget Committee deferred to the Liberal choice, George Smitherman. Ford's blow-up over developer fees at November 29's council meeting was the last straw, she says.
The reality is that Carroll's been running an under-the-radar campaign for some months now. She's been everywhere and even has her own radio spot as a regular contributor to the John Moore show on CFRB.
Consistently bringing up the rear in public opinion polls, Carroll is banking on growing recognition of her ability. While she is a Liberal, she's more closely identified with the Miller regime and was seen by some lefties on council as a better option in 2010 than Joe Pantalone, being a woman, left-centre and from the burbs.
Fordists lump her into the leftist camp, but also tried to draft her into the cause by lining up votes to make her chair of the TTC after Karen Stintz's council coup to kill Sheppard. Carroll didn't bite.
Odds: 10-1 She's adored by creative-class types, but objective analysis suggests a win isn't in the cards, which is more than a little depressing, since it speaks volumes about the state of municipal politics. On the policy front, Carroll is brilliant.
Time to set the record straight on the TTC chair. When she said she wouldn't run against Ford, it was right after the coup she'd orchestrated on the Sheppard subway vote in February 2012. She was being magnanimous. Truth is, Stintz has long had mayoral aspirations and said so as recently as June at a Women's Executive Network event.
That, not too coincidentally, was a few days before she sprang the One City surprise - a proposal to criss-cross our fair city with 175 kilometres of new transit lines. Transit City part deux? That was widely viewed as a platform for a possible mayoral run. It was. Those with their own political ambitions at City Hall saw it as a power play, too, which is partly why the plan got sidelined at council.
Stintz has made her calculations. She knew Ford would eventually self-destruct. And a lot has happened to reinforce her mayoral ambitions, not least of which is the chasm between herself and the mayor's office. That reached the point of no return over Busgate, Ford's recent commandeering of a packed TTC bus to get his football team home. The missed wrinkle in that story: how anxious Ford was to get back to council to vote against the Metrolinx master agreement inked after Stintz's Sheppard coup.
That really pissed her off.
Odds: 3-1 For those who believe only a centre-right candidate can beat Ford, Stintz is an attractive choice: fiscally conservative, socially liberal, transit-focused, urban. Shit, she rides a bike to work. Ford's friends know this, too. That's why they pepper conversations about Stintz these days with dirty little suggestions about the lobbyists she's alledgedly cozy with. Show me a politician who isn't tight with any of them. Easy to forget she was creaming Ford in head-to-head polls back when Sheppard was in the headlines. That's bound to win Stintz more than a little attention. The flies the ointment: family and financial considerations.
One interesting cat who's hard to pin down. Word is he had a team assembled ready to go in 2010, but ducked when Ford decided to run. A few of his backers then went to George Smitherman. Ford's been keeping Thompson at arm's length - and very busy - ever since, with two full-time jobs, besides his council duties: chair of the Economic Development Committee and vice-chair of the Police Services Board.
A staunch supporter of the mayor, Thompson was hung out to dry by Ford in the 2011 budget battle with police. There were other public signs of friction between the two. Thompson expressed personal regrets over the bloody coup against former TTC general manager Gary Webster orchestrated by Ford.
Who knows? Toronto's first black mayor of the century? Sounds pretty good. Thompson's recently piqued curiosity about his intention to run because of his role in the conflict of interest vote that got Ford in trouble. The Star reported that he tried to persuade Ford not to vote on that matter, and if he'd taken that advice he'd still be our mayor in good standing. Not mentioned in the Star account, however, is that Thompson then voted with Ford over not repaying lobbyists' donations to his football foundation.
Odds: 50-1 Thompson's political instincts are questionable, but he'd add interest to a by-election, particularly in predominantly black, priority neighbourhoods in Scarborough - which incidentally are not his natural constituency.
Once bitten, twice shy. Fourth time lucky? Not likely. Seems there can't be a conversation about an election for mayor without the former Tory leader turned radio talk show host's name in the mix. In the current context, though, he'd be the conservative anti-Ford, a more civil, slightly less right-wing version of Rob, more malleable than Karen Stintz for the power brokers on Bay Street looking for someone to save the conservative brand now that Ford has destroyed it. Lest we forget, Tory's name was linked to an 11th-hour effort by Mike Harris and the boys at Cassels Brock to derail Ford in the 2010 race. There is also the matter of getting Tim Hudak in power at Queen's Park, and without seats in the Big Smoke, that's less likely. Tory as mayor could help in that regard.
Nothing against John. I think he's a great guy. But has he earned another shot? As the voice of CivicAction, he's been reluctant to criticize the outrages of the Ford administration.
Odds: 25-1 Won't run against Rob. May take a shot if Ford's removed from office. The perception problem: he's the guy who got bounced as PC party leader for not being right-wing enough. Now they want him back?
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Despite strong evidence to the contrary that we've reached the tipping point, the big bad buffoon isn't done just yet.
By-elections can be strange animals. They typically don't attract huge numbers, and that goes double for municipal contests. And Ford still has a motivated base. The PR offensive is on to turn him into the poster boy for democracy, thanks to some Conservative party money and marketing skills behind a YouTube video and that respectdemocracy.ca creation.
Ford's playing the victim card, as he's wont to do when he's in a bind. But early polls suggest the public's not buying his line that he was ousted from office on a technicality.
Perceived conflicts and highfalutin questions about whether it's wrong to solicit money from lobbyists doing business with the city (and then vote against repaying it) may be the least of Ford's worries.
There'll be high-stakes budget battles with the cops and fire department before any by-election. And all signs on that front are that they'll be ugly; the police union this week threatened to take the city to court over layoffs. The business class, conspicuous by its silence till now, may finally be taking notice of the wreck Ford's made of Toronto's global livability index.
Odds: 8-1 Ford Nation is frayed at the edges, It may require a united centre-left candidate to defeat Ford, who'll have significant campaign resources and a readymade narrative to campaign "against" council. Yup. The outsider still trying to "stop the gravy train" for the taxpayer.
Maybe we're all being a tad elitist about all this. Let's not make this any more complicated than it has to be, right? It is municipal politics we're talking about. As long as the garbage gets picked up and property taxes are kept in check, so what?
But if Ford's taught us anything, it's the danger of that kind of thinking for modern city-building. That's not elitist. That's just smart economics.
THE WILD CARDS
Other names that have been kicked around as possible mayoral replacements:
He hasn't ruled out running for mayor in a by-election if his brother can't. Should we believe Doug, who claims to hate politicians cuz they're "sleazy" and can't be trusted? What is he? ODDS: 1000-1
His name comes up in casual conversation among Libs as a possible outside candidate. One anonymous Facebook page to draft Ontario's minister of economic development and trade a campaign does not make. But Duguid is reportedly testing the waters. ODDS: 100-1
Is he Toronto's answer to Calgary's Naheed Nenshi? The president and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation also sits on the Metrolinx board and was part of David Miller's 2007 Blue Ribbon Fiscal Review Panel. ODDS: 50-1
The outrageous opportunist was the first to jump ship, resigning from the mayor's executive within hours of the ruling booting Ford from office. Giorgio shouldn't pretend to be so righteous. He has the stink of an audit of campaign donations hanging over him, too. ODDS: 1000-1
Mensa material. And in comparison with Ford's scandals, the alleged leg-over on the couch with a political groupie that proved Giambrone's undoing in 2010 seems like diddly-squat. ODDS:80-1
Slowly finding his way back into public life after criminal charges against him in the 2009 death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard were dropped, the former AG hasn't closed the door on a political comeback. A lot of his former backers still believe in him. The list of acknowledgements in his book about the Sheppard tragedy is a who's who of city power brokers. ODDS: 2000-1
The rookie sensation with big ideas - and a biz background - has impressed councillors on the right, left and centre. Look out. She's priming for a run at some point in the future. ODDS: 60-1
The phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook, and he's busy vying with Gerard Kennedy to take over the provincial Liberal party. After the licking he took in the last mayoral race... ODDS: 1000-1
He's had mayoral ambitions ever since he was a pup and appointed to North York council to replace the late Barry Burton. Post-conflict-of-interest ruling, he's been among the most critical of the mayor's allies. But he won't go if John Tory does. ODDS: 60-1